There are few things in the
world less stable than being a child star in Hollywood. Once in a blue
moon one will put together a serious adult career — Jodie Foster, Elijah
Wood and Helen Hunt come immediately to mind — but much more often the
mixture of adulation and obscene amounts of money (which is usually misused
by the parents before the star ever gets their hands on it) can do weird
things to a child. It is, understandably, hard for a person to grasp
that their life's peak comes before they hit pubescence. This leads to
excesses and misbehavior where they are much more likely to be fodder for an
E! True Hollywood Story than ever have any kind of serious,
Taylor Brandon Burns is the
all-too-cute sit-com kid of a stupid family show called Family Problems
(fake clips of which features a good-natured Alan Thicke parodying
himself as the dense-but-loving father). Taylor is at a dangerous
crossroads in his career — as one of his agents points out any day now his
voice could crack and he may never work again. Therefore they cash in
quickly, sending him up to Toronto to star in a dumb cheap action epic
called First Son, in which he plays the son of the President of the
US who must save his father from terrorists. The father is played by
an aging and slightly dim former star played by Michael Murphy, but the
stupid script and the old ham playing the character make it a little hard to
take seriously. ("He's supposed to be the President of the United
States," says a producer played by Dave Foley. "One idiot and a
blowjob ago that meant something...")
Taylor is an interesting
case — on one hand he is a complete spoiled brat, on another hand he does
seem to be soulful, trying to find himself. He is floundering in a
world that he just isn't ready for — the sycophants, the girls, the alcohol
and drugs; as a male he is intrigued by them, but as a twelve year-old boy
he really doesn't understand them. This is most poignantly exhibited
in the relationship Taylor has with a cute but gold-digging "actress/model"
(Kristin Adams), in which Taylor's immaturity comes to the fore as he cannot
understand the ramifications and limitations of their relationship. He
wants to start a family, she wants to get a TV role.
While there is something
rather disturbing about this supposed relationship between Taylor and the
model, the sexual double standard allows it to pass without much notice in
this story and this world. One character vaguely chides the actress
that he's only a boy, but that seems to be the only person who finds it the
least bit odd. Because he's a boy, its just assumed he's just getting
an "education." If this were played the other way around, with a
twentyish male model having sexual contact with a twelve year-old actress,
all hell would break out, and rightfully so.
Taylor's stage mother
Suzanne is played
by Jennifer Jason Leigh (who, ironically was something of a child actress
herself, though her first real recognition did not come until late in her
teen years). She dismissively insists that she is not like the normal
clingy stage mothers and in many ways she is right — she gives her son an
incredible amount of leeway to do his thing. In fact, she specifically
avoids many of her responsibilities as the parent of a minor in a movie.
She isn't there to supervise him on set even though legally he must have a
guardian with him at all times. She also gives her latest, new
boyfriend power of guardianship for him just so that she can shop for a
piano for a house which they will not live in for more than a few weeks.
As we learn as the story goes on in one way, she is the prototypical stage
mother. Taylor is her meal ticket and she is going to milk every penny
she can get out of him.
Representing sanity, or at
least as close as sanity comes to this world, is Rick (played by co-writer
and director Don McKellar), an arty and unemployed wannabe director in the
middle of an ugly divorce who is hired as Taylor's personal chauffeur.
He quickly becomes Suzanne's fling and Taylor's confidant and coach on
meeting women. Rick tries to believe in them, be there for their every
need and teach them valuable life lessons, yet he is easily and readily used
by each of them. However, when push comes to shove, even the
supposedly pure and principled Rick sort of sells out to the Hollywood
system for his own personal gain and career.
For all of its
quality of story and filmmaking, and despite its intriguing concept and its
shocking birds-eye view of a world we don't often get to see; in the end,
bit of a pat, obvious lesson to impart. Of course a twelve year-old is
too young to be in this world without getting warped. And of course
once he's a little older and not so cute he is likely to be spit out of the
Hollywood system. Both are valid points and both are made powerfully
here. Still, show me anyone who is not immersed in that culture who would
have ever said otherwise.
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: October 8, 2005.