Childstar Don McKellar

Childstar Don McKellar
Don McKellar's second feature, Childstar, is all about being literal. It's about a child star — a popular 12-year-old American sitcom actor who goes to Toronto to make a Hollywood blockbuster called The First Son. It's also very literally about a Canadian indie filmmaker (played by McKellar), a limo driver for the film business who finds himself entangled in the American movie machine. Childstar is about family and about celebrity. And all this is very literal, but the line between literal and metaphorical is deceptively thin, and it's this line that McKellar's Childstar masterfully straddles.

One of the reasons it works so well is that McKellar is acutely aware of his public person, and never over- or underestimates just how famous he is; he's arguably the most iconic figure in contemporary Canadian cinema. So when his character, Rickie, stands up to a bossy American movie producer — "I don't work for you, I work for the limo company" — it's almost as if we're watching Canadian film itself stand up to corporate Hollywood. It's easy to root for the little guy.

What keeps the balance between metaphor and literalism is the film's genuine interest in the objects it examines. McKellar says he got the idea for making Childstar after meeting a poised and very young Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) at a post-Oscar party in 1999. Childstar, which he co-wrote with Michael Goldbach, goes to great lengths to humanise and sympathise with its namesake, asking questions about mass media's consumption of child performers — rich and famous in a day, then tabloid-fodder for the rest of their lives.

Mostly this is a very funny film that never misses an opportunity for a smart joke or a poignant observation at the expense of someone who thinks they know better. A cameo-riddled cast includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mark Rendall, Dave Foley, Kristin Adams, Brendan Fehr, Eric Stoltz, Peter Paige and Alan Thicke. (TVA)