Childstar (2004) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language and sexual situations
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Don McKellar, Mark Rendall, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kristin Adams, Brendan Fehr, Dave Foley, Michael Murphy, Eric Stoltz, Alan Thicke
Director: Don McKellar
Screenplay: Don McKellar
Review published October 30, 2005
A skillfully directed and often acute comedy about the trials and tribulations of child stardom, difficult for the child actor himself as well as those that have to put up with his immaturity and egotism. Written, directed, and starring Don McKellar (Last Night), Childstar is a worthwhile peek behind the scenes of big time movie making, specifically in how it handles and markets movies aimed at the family market. Shades of many child stars of the past, especially Macaulay Culkin, allow the themes to resonate, while McKellar's keen insight into the nature of the business hits all the right notes. That said, there is still a lack of focus to the film that keeps it from really taking the story and running away with it, as there are all too many side characters that appear only to take the gist of the film away from what's really important.
McKellar casts himself as Rick Schiller, a former film studies professor that has left the profession in order to pursue his dreams of being a movie director himself. Breaking into the business isn't easy, so to support himself, he takes a job as a driver, delivering one of America's biggest child stars, Taylor Brandon Thomas (Rendall, Touching Wild Horses) to and from the movie set, and anywhere else he and his money-manipulating mother (Leigh, The Machinist) wish to go. Schiller is immediately seduced by the mother, while slowly becoming a father figure to the boy, although his tempestuous and petulant nature makes him a tough beast to tame, especially when the boy decides to vacate the set to have a little independence.
There are more elements to like than dislike, especially in the funny situations and witty criticism of the United States by our neighbors to the north. Much of the satire rings true, and had McKellar focused mainly on Taylor and his kicking-and-screaming style of coming into maturity, this might have been one of the better comedies of the year. Unfortunately, we are privy to things that end up faring very little into the overall scheme of things, such as revisiting Schiller's problems with his ex and his ideas for making his own personal form of cinema. Just a little snipping here and there would have made a fairly good movie into a real winner.
Childstar should hold the attention for people that regularly enjoy independent features, as this is a well-produced and acted venture, done with skill. It is also recommended for those that like movies about making movies, and the stinging barbs of criticism against Hollywood and sitcoms in general are quite funny. It has its share of lulls, especially as it draws to its somewhat deflating conclusion, but the quality characterizations and interesting observations still make this a fun ride when it hits a stride.
©2005 Vince Leo