The prospect and pitfalls of child stardom is an inherently fascinating subject. Unfortunately, this HBO film directed by Bill and Ted star Alex Winter takes a fundamentally flawed and often extremely undercooked approach discussing it. A plethora of 80s and 90s child stars (Henry Thomas, Evan Rachel Wood, Milla Jovovich, Will Wheaton, Mara Wilson) as well as appearances from Baby Peggy and Cameron Boyce (the film is dedicated to both their memories RIP) appear and deliver variations of the same child stardom stories viewers will have heard before. That’s not to say some of the interviews aren’t individually fascinating especially from Wood and Thomas both of whom are incredibly engaging but the overall package just feels very surface level.
The film also tries to incorporate looking at two case studies of modern child stardom and while there are some interesting ideas ripe for discussion (especially in the way it showcases trying to make the children social media stars) but this doesn’t get the level of exploration it should. The films fundamental flaw is demonstrated best by the fact the second case study refers focuses on a child Broadway actress and one of the shows she gets cast in is Andrew Lloyd Webber stage adaptation of School of Rock. Having seen (and very much enjoyed) the recently closed London production this is a show that relies heavily on the talent pool of the kids in adapting Mike Whites original script into a bombastic rock opera. Instead of putting focus on this and maybe getting a number of perspectives from the cast about what being in the show is like Winter simply asks his chosen subject what she plans to do after finishing her run and leaves it at that. The darker elements and systematic abuse within the system are discussed in but negligible emotional impact really deflates what could be some powerful discussion.
It’s hard not to see this film as a huge missed opportunity even at a relatively brief 90 minutes. Some of the interviews are very engaging individually but the themes and discussion overall offer nothing new or engaging. if you want a really powerful look at the pressures, impact and abuse within child stardom Athlete A is on Netflix now which packs a much greater emotional wallop then this film could ever manage.