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Overall Rating

Awesome: 15%
Worth A Look45%
Average: 5%
Pretty Bad: 35%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 8 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Needs to be much nicer or much, much meaner."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: Don McKellar goes for easy targets in Childstar, ones which should be easy to skewer and whose mocking should be especially appreciated by a festival audience: Pampered child actors! Irresponsible stage mothers! Crappy, inane, faux-patriotic Hollywood movies! Arrogant Americans condescending to sincere Canadians! Obsessive celebrity news! This should be shooting fish in a barrel, but McKellar often gives the frustrating impression that he can't tell fish and barrels apart.

Part of the reason why may be that McKellar is making a movie based on other peoples' horror stories. Despite a fifteen-year career as an actor in Toronto, he doesn't appear to have ever wound up cast in a Hollywood production; even eXistenZ was a local production. This means that instead of drawing on the experience of being a Canadian indie filmmaker/actor on the set of an American runaway production, he's pretty much regurgitating the same anti-Hollywood clichés that the audience has seen a million times before (early on, he even has the young movie star blithely ask who the director is). The end result is a movie that feels overly familiar, when it should have some sort of insider knowledge.

Another big problem is that his child star character is described early and often as being twelve years old, but actor Mark Rendall is fifteen and looks it. He's too tall and too filled out for the audience to buy that he's just now hitting puberty. It seems unlikely that McKellar meant this satirically, since the other characters certainly tend to treat him like a teenager, and not having the visual reminder that the character is just a kid makes later scenes feel less unusual than they should.

The premise of the film has Rendall's Taylor Brandon Burns (because young blond pretty-boy types are always credited with their middle names) coming to Toronto while his sitcom is on break to shoot First Son, a thoroughly stupid movie about the President's son being expelled from summer camp and having to run the country when Air Force One is hijacked. Rick Schiller (McKellar) is the former university lecturer/frustrated indie filmmaker/limo driver assigned to squire him around, eventually roped into functioning as Taylor's tutor when the kid's mother Suzanne (Jennifer Jason Leigh) takes a liking to him. When the kid runs off with a model he meets drinking with Rick and his co-stars, Rick has to find him before incurring the wrath of the movie's producers (Dave Foley and Gil Bellows).

Given that description, the main roads open to McKellar are "black comedy" and "melodrama". The characters aren't interesting enough for melodrama, though: Rick is a bland sad sack who gets walked all over by his ex-wife, and Taylor isn't nearly monstrous enough for the producers to eagerly exile him to Toronto or his tutors to quit. Good luck guessing what Suzanne wants and feels. Natalie, the model (Kristin Adams), comes off as a little more ambiguous than being a dumb-blonde stereotype, but not enough to actually be interesting. If we're not going to be invested in the characters, we should at least be able to laugh at them, but for the most part the movie isn't funny. Again, we go back to the child star not really looking like a child. A genuine 12-year-old being given a beer by the guy acting as his guardian is either appalling or absurd (or both); when the kid looks to be about sixteen, it's just kind of sad. The ending is also problematic, with the characters oddly content in their self-servingness despite all the earlier hand-wringing. McKellar also seems strangely unconcerned about the significant age difference between Taylor and Natalie.

There are some good jokes - some of the parody of bad movies/TV hits dead on (Rick drily commenting that the TV family is obviously loving because of how they insult each other, the ludicrusly over-the-top storyline of First Son). McKellar mines exactly one quality laugh out of the US/Canada culture clash - "That's your fantasy; I'm Canadian." For the most part, though, the jokes seem to come from a different place than the story; they're things the writers put in, not what arises naturally from who these characters are.

The movie was pitched in the IFFB's program as a comedy, and maybe that's not particularly accurate. There's not enough meat to these characters for them to be the focus on their own, though, and the inside showbiz stuff isn't that great either. I'm not a big believer in trying to fit a movie into a label and say that comedies must be judged for THIS and dramas for THAT; stories are stories. Still, his movie doesn't do much of anything particularly well.

Fair disclosure: My opinion of this movie may be adversely influenced because it features Alan Thicke as a sitcom dad, and having people still remember "Growing Pains" after 20 years annoys me. But I think this movie will annoy people not named Jason Seaver, too.

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originally posted: 04/27/05 07:18:25
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston. For more in the 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/07/05 Darcy better than i had anticipated 4 stars
4/18/05 Kaya the best film for me at the istanbul film festival this year 5 stars
4/16/05 craig varney this kid grows up to quick 3 stars
1/04/05 Forget it Why, again, is McKellar on screen? 2 stars
9/23/04 Bonzo Dogbandt Great film. 5 stars
9/21/04 Margo really smart and funny 4 stars
9/20/04 denny enjoyable but not in the great class 4 stars
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