Don McKellar, who cowrote, directed, and stars in this movie, is one of those people who probably has more than his fair allotment of talent. He cowrote and starred in one of the best Canadian television series, Twitch City, as well as classic Canadian films like Highway 61 and Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, and the less-Canadian The Red Violin.
Childstar is McKellar's take on the US film industry in Canada, centred on, as you might imagine, a child star. Taylor Brandon Burns (Mark Rendall) is the titular character, a 12 year old famous for his role in a generic family sitcom (starring Alan Thicke of Growing Pains as the dad). Pompous Taylor lands a role in a movie being shot in Toronto, with a ridiculous plot about the son of the American president taking control after his dad is kidnapped by terrorists. Feeling the pressure of stardom and tasting the debauchery his fame can buy him, Taylor runs away, leading to a frantic search and panic on the set.
The movie offers us glimpses of life on a movie set, complete with inept director, idiotic actor, faded former child star Chip (Brendon Fehr, Roswell), frantic producer (Dave Foley, NewsRadio), and neglectful but manipulative stage mom Suzanne Burns (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Single White Female). McKellar plays Rick the driver – actually an experimental filmmaker who begins as Taylor's chauffeur and ends as his tutor and confidente, while sleeping with his mother.
McKellar's eccentric dry wit permeates the film, but it isn't the raucous comedy the plot might suggest. Rick becomes disgusted with the exploitation of the child star as a commodity, by his mother, by the industry, and even by the child himself. I can't help but cringe at my own hypocrisy that I can't imagine a film getting away with the sexual themes involving 12-year-old Taylor if the genders were reversed, but his unchildlike demeanour is part of the point – this is a child who has more power than the adults around him.