Sundance Channel // R // $26.99 // September 13, 2005
Review by Randy Miller III | posted September 23, 2005
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Graphical Version

You're only famous for fifteen minutes.
Make every second count

Quirky, quick and dryly funny, Don McKellar's Childstar offers an entertaining look at Taylor Brandon Burns (Mark Rendall), a young celebrity who acts more like a tired old veteran. Taylor's home life doesn't add up to much: his depressed mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) knows little more about raising him than negotiating the best salary, while his dad packed up and left for California a few years back. Enter Rick (McKellar), a young independent filmmaker who's going through a divorce while struggling to get his own movie backed. To pay the bills, Rick takes a job as Taylor's limo driver---while quickly catching the eye of his mom, of course.

Before you know it, they're the skeleton of a family unit...but a family unit nonetheless. Of course, the young actor still has a lot of growing up to do; after all, his life consists of being pulled in several directions while having his near-sighted future mapped out in detail. Taylor's latest starring role (in an action packed Hollywood blockbuster that I'm surprised hasn't actually been made already) looks to be a winner, but the young man is growing sick and tired of his sheltered life. Even so, Rick learns that he has a bit of growing up to do himself. Their lives don't run completely parallel, but they're in a unique position to learn a lot from each other.

Treading the line between black comedy and coming-of-age story, McKellar has achieved a terrific balance with Childstar. The writer/director/actor has made a name for himself during the last decade or so, appearing in a handful of Canadian films (Waydowntown, Existenz) and TV shows ("Twitch City", "Trudeau"). His knack for offbeat, dry comedy and his charismatic personality are in excellent form here, though Rendall, Leigh and others turn in terrific performances as well. Christopher Dedrick's subtle score is another highlight, providing a fine atmosphere without fighting for position.

The relatively fast pace of Childstar---amplified by the 99-minute running time---ensures that the story goes by quickly but isn't rushed. There's a few twists and turns along the way, which are just as over-the-top as the rest of the film without feeling forced. If the film has one minor fault, it's that the ending sequence is slightly drawn out (especially since everything else zips by) and tends to be preachy. Even so, those who enjoy oddball comedy should get a kick out of Childstar. It's a bit off the beaten path, but those who enjoy treading in that direction will find much to enjoy.

Presented on DVD by Sundance, Childstar is a fairly solid release that would've been even better after a quick tune-up. While the audio quality, presentation and bonus features are all up to par, the visual presentation isn't quite as good as I'd hoped. Even so, this disc deserves a closer look.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality:

Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, Childstar has unfortunately not been enhanced for anamorphic displays. There are also several other problems on display, including a noticeable amount of edge enhancement and a few instances of moderate grain. The colors are often dull and muted, though this looks to be the director's intention. Overall, a slightly disappointing effort---it doesn't ruin the film, but it's a drawback for those with decent setups.

Fortunately, the audio presentation is an improvement. Available in either 2.0 or 5.1 Surround mixes, there was a terrific amount of atmosphere on display during several scenes. With clear dialogue and a clean overall balance, Childstar sounded much stronger than I was expecting (especially compared to the video presentation) and shouldn't disappoint in the least. Unfortunately, no subtitles or Closed Captioning options were made available for this DVD release.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:

The menus designs (seen above) are simple and appropriate, employing a nice atmosphere and simple navigation. This 99-minute film has been divided into 20 chapters, while no apparent layer change was detected during playback. The packaging design is straightforward, as this one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase with a Sundance promotional insert.

Bonus Features:

It's certainly not a loaded disc, but there's some interesting stuff here that fans will enjoy. First up is an Audio Commentary with director/actor Don McKellar, editor Reginald Harkema and composer Christopher Dedrick (strangely enough, the latter two aren't mentioned on the packaging). It's a fun and loose track---and McKellar is just as charismatic and quirky as his onscreen persona---though there are a few gaps of silence throughout. Also here is a fairly in-depth Making-Of Documentary (24 minutes) that covers the usual behind-the-scenes ground, but it's funny and entertaining the whole way through. Last but not least, there's the film's Theatrical Trailer presented in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. Overall, not a bad little spread for an independent film.

Final Thoughts

I wasn't expecting a great deal from Childstar, thinking it would be a relatively bland coming-of-age family film---which is why I was pleasantly surprised. The brand of humor may take some getting used to, but most viewers will see a sharp, witty and revealing look at the underbelly of a young actor's life (and the oddballs that raise him). It's not quite "sleeper hit of the year" material, but those who love offbeat comedy should give Childstar a spin. Though the visuals could use some fine tuning, this package from Sundance is still strong enough to be a worthwhile purchase. Recommended.

Randy Miller III is a moderately affable art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA, who also enjoys freelance graphic design and illustration. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.

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