Childstar Movie Review

In this smart but inconsistent look at the concept of celebrity, Canadian indie favorite Don McKellar pulls triple-duty -- writing, directing, and starring -- for the first time in seven years. That year, 1998, McKellar caught the eye of the international film audience with his end-of-the-world diary Last Night, and the ambitious epic The Red Violin, which he co-wrote. In comparison to those fine contributions, Childstar is lightweight stuff and sub-par McKellar.

Having conceived the idea for Childstar after a chance Oscar party conversation with Haley Joel Osment, McKellar stars as Rick, an experimental filmmaker who becomes the limo driver for Taylor Brandon Burns (great name!) a spoiled 12-year-old American superstar (Mark Rendall) shooting a new film in Canada. That movie, The First Son, is a ridiculous piece of jingoistic drivel where the President's son kicks some terrorist ass in order to save Dad, the White House and the whole damn country.

McKellar introduces us to this "child star," the film industry and assorted sycophants in a breezy opening half-hour that includes rich kid hissy fits, a mom (a dreary, uninterested Jennifer Jason Leigh) living off her son's wealth, and Rick's depressing but funny family background. The setup promises a wisecracking satire that will move quickly and soak in the details.

But when an obvious plot point sets up Rick as Taylor's tutor -- the kid has chewed up and spit out previous teachers -- Childstar softens and loses its pace. In what seems like a weak version of Roger Dodger, Rick gets Taylor out on the town to gain his trust, where the kid meets a floozy model that gives him his first taste of sex right there on the floor of the Oval Office. Okay, the set that stands in as the Oval Office.

You get the point. The joke, especially coming from a Canadian filmmaker, is too easy. Yes, we know about sex that took place in the White House. (Never mind the sex we don't know about.) It feels like McKellar is going for a mix of black humor and touching awkwardness, but both attempts feel too contrived to be earnest.

From there, the plot gets frustratingly simple. The kid, convinced that he's in love, runs away with the girl, while Mom, Rick, and half the film world go hunting for him. McKellar wants to show us Taylor as a pained star with a crappy family, but the complexity and thoughtfulness seen in previous McKellar work is missing. The serious stuff gets lip service, and not much gets examined beyond the surface.

There are some notable supporting performances, especially that of Brendan Fehr (Final Destination) as a former child actor full of confusion and self-hatred, but McKellar's unique acting style really holds up the film's faltering moments. As in other films, his delivery has a resigned calm that imparts smarts, confidence, even good pent-up anger. Ultimately, McKellar's starring turn -- along with a strong final scene -- help him save his own film from the unfortunate crap heap.

Aka Child Star.


Comments

Childstar Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, 2004

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