Don’t kid a kidder

‘Childstar’ should make regular folks glad they’re not famous

By the end of “Childstar,” we’re still not quite sure what writer and director Don McKellar thinks of his characters.

When was the last time you could say that about the bland, predictable Hollywood fare that constitutes most cinema diets?

“Childstar,” which kicks off the impressive Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival this weekend, is a perfect deconstruction of just why Hollywood sucks and why festivals like this are so essential in the first place.

In some regards, McKellar seems to love his characters, as the snotty 12-year-old actor Taylor (Mark Rendall); his egotistical and cynical mother, Suzanne (Jennifer Jason Leigh); and their struggling limo driver, Rick (McKellar), all grow through their various tribulations.

These lessons are learned initially on a movie set, where all three meet. But soon, Taylor has abandoned the production for a woman, and Rick has started having an affair with Suzanne. Then, Rick gets full custody of the child, so Suzanne can legally leave the set while Taylor is shooting.

At other times, however, McKellar seems disgusted by these people.

Taylor is the personification of Hollywood ego. Suzanne is the shrill and snide elitist, infatuated with her own power. Taylor’s pseudogirlfriend represents the industry’s cynical social scene, dangling sex in front of Taylor only because it could possibly benefit her career.

“Childstar” is a film that exists on its own merits, defiantly avoiding the conventional formulas so many inferior films become trapped in.

It starts to become a Hollywood satire, only for McKellar to dig deeper into Rick’s

struggles and Taylor’s pain. “Childstar” then shows signs of a buddy picture, as Rick teaches Taylor a thing or two about the world, but then Taylor goes missing, and that relationship is upended.

And suddenly, without any fair warning, “Childstar” ends in a fit of sympathy that elicits a surprising degree of pathos from the audience.

There’s something about child actors, poked and prodded by adults for their own amusement, that is indeed tragic.

McKellar recognizes that comedy and drama are never far apart. And embracing this duality in life, he has made a film that exists powerfully, and entertainingly, beyond classifications.