Documentary

Showbiz Kids

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An emotional journey told from these former and current child stars.

You all know Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz,” or Diana Serra Cary as Baby Peggy, or Gary Coleman as Arnold Jackson on “Different Strokes,” or Shirley Temple, or Henry Thomas as Elliott in “E.T.” All of them were child actors, who all had major impacts on avid movie goers young and old.

The new HBO documentary “Showbiz Kids” focuses on the actors, who began their careers as tykes in commercials, plays, and movies. Some of them explore their sexualities, other miss out on their childhood, most of them wish to expand their horizons, some of them have been violated, and various stars eventually realize their parents sacrificed a lot of make sure their careers would stay afloat (quitting jobs, relocation, etc.). There’s a lot going on in their lives, and we care about their feelings.

For example:

  • Will Wheaton (before “Stand by Me” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) took so much crap from a commercial director, that he wanted to go forward with the movies. And he also became angry with how people didn’t help River Phoenix overcome his drug abuse, which led to his tragic death.
  • Milla Jovovich despised going on set, but she still kept on acting.
  • Diana Serra Cary’s child-acting career didn’t last long.
  • Mara Wilson (“Matilda,” “Mrs. Doubtfire”) barely had her share of her childhood or school, because of her acting career.
  • Jada Pinkett-Smith started off performing in front of her family, and can’t imagine how her life would have been if she never took on the movie career.
  • Evan Rachel Wood tears up about how select former child actors (like Corey Feldman) have been victims of pedophila.
  • Todd Bridges lost his self-esteem and dignity.
  • Cameron Boyce’s (“Jessie”) father had to quit his job just so he could support his acting career, and the young actor was able to balance work and school. This was before his death last year.
  • Bad reviews (this doc targets the late Roger Ebert) have threatened taint their reputations, and the actors are unhappy that film critics don’t realize they’re putting a lot of effort in their work.

On the side, we also meet little Marc Slater, who aspires to be an actor, and impersonates his favorite movie characters. His mother Melanie books him auditions, and wants to make sure he loves doing what he does. And let’s not forget Demi Singleton, who’s had her share on the Broadway versions of “School of Rock” and “The Lion King,” and wants to make herself a successful actress.

Writer/director Alex Winter (best known for the “Bill & Ted” movies” and a former child actor) delves deep inside the actors, and how their careers have given them positive and negative reactions. It talks about them missing out on their childhoods, destructing themselves, being sexually abused, and where they went in their careers. I wish there were more former child star interviewees, but I was still able to sympathize Will Wheaton, Evan Rachel Wood, Cameron Boyce, and Mara Wilson, among others.

If you love former or current child stars, then watch “Showbiz Kids,” and see it through their perspectives. They’re human beings too, and they deserve better. This doc makes it perfectly clear, and I was touched by it.

⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Available on HBO

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