Childstar (2004)

Dir. by Don McKellar

My first and only five-film day of the festival began early Sunday morning with Don McKellar’s latest, Childstar. McKellar stars as Rick Schiller, a cinema studies professor and experimental filmmaker who finds himself working as a chauffeur to Taylor Brandon Burns (Mark Rendall), an adolescent heartthrob whose latest film, The American Son, is shooting in Toronto. Schiller soon hooks up with Burns’ mother (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), becomes Burns’ legal guardian, and guides the young actor through his inevitable and by-the-numbers coming of age.

During the post-screening Q&A, McKellar told the story of the film’s inspiration. (Here’s another version of the same story, as reported in the Toronto Sun.)

It was the Dreamworks party for American Beauty, and I met Haley Joel Osment at the bar. . . . I don’t know what he was drinking, but I’m sure it wasn’t scandalous. Anyway, I talked to him for quite awhile before I realized he was 12 or whatever. He was so mature, there were no adults around him, he was just talking. And I thought what a potent symbol he was of something — of my experience of Hollywood. He was an unnaturally precocious kid in a culture where kids act too old and adults act too young.

Part family drama, part satire of Hollywood, Childstar allows McKellar plenty of room to poke fun at the film “industry,” with its gangster-like agents, manipulative and cost-conscious producers, and exploitive parents. And for the most part, it works. I laughed out loud several times and enjoyed the relationship between Schiller and Burns. McKellar has the perfect face for the role; he always looks vaguely exasperated by the waste and ego of celebrity, and his intelligence and wit make him an entertaining guide through it all.

I decided to see Childstar mostly for the opportunity to hear McKellar introduce it — I’ve been a big fan since first seeing him in Atom Egoyan’s Exotica — and his introduction set up the best laugh of the morning. His microphone was positioned at the bottom right corner of the screen, and he began by saying that he had promised himself that he would never be “one of those directors who goes on and on about the film, sucking the life out of the room, but that he wanted to take a minute or two to explain why he felt that he must make this particular film.” Remember that if you get a chance to see Childstar. (McKellar held little hope for American distribution, by the way, but said that it will be shown widely in Canada, beginning in October.)