The Films of Don McKellar
Childstar (October 3/05)
Childstar marks Don McKellar's follow-up to his acclaimed debut, Last Night, and to call the two films dissimilar is a gross understatement. Last Night was a slow-moving, introspective, thoroughly Canadian look at how several characters chose to deal with the end of the world. Childstar, on the other hand, is a glossy, fast-paced piece of work that will certainly appeal to a much wider audience - although the movie isn't remotely as effective as McKellar's earlier effort. The story revolves around Taylor Brandon Burns (Mark Rendall), a monstrous child actor who arrives in Canada to shoot his latest blockbuster. Indie filmmaker Rick Schiller (McKellar) takes a job as the boy's driver, and soon discovers for himself why nobody else wanted the position. And when Taylor absconds from the set with a girl (who may or may not be a prostitute), it's Rick who's assigned to find the kid and bring him back. It's a familiar storyline that doesn't hold a lot of surprises, particularly in terms of Taylor's arc; ie it's not exactly a shock to discover that Taylor's outwardly obnoxious behavior is masking an insecure, vulnerable interior. The end result is a setup that feels as though it'd be more at home in a sitcom, although - to be fair - McKellar does pepper the film with a number of undeniably cinematic touches (mostly in the realm of visuals). Along with cinematographer André Turpin, McKellar imbues Childstar with an innovative sense of style that never becomes distracting (the filmmaker cleverly recycles that device from The Silence of the Lambs, wherein it seems as though a character is knocking on one door but is in fact somewhere entirely different). Likewise, the film's screenplay - by McKellar and Michael Goldbach - features a number of positives, including a few genuinely funny moments and a general sense of creativeness. Having said that, Childstar ultimately comes off as kind of trivial; the film's emotional impact is dulled by some heavy-handedness towards the end, as McKellar goes overboard in portraying Taylor's plight. Still, Childstar's entertaining throughout and the performances are uniformly superb, resulting in a movie that does succeed as a mindlessly engaging comedy.
The Grand Seduction
Based on 2003's Seducing Dr. Lewis, The Grand Seduction follows the various inhabitants of a small town (including Brandan Gleeson's Murray and Liane Balaban's Kathleen) as they conspire to trick a flashy doctor (Taylor Kitsch's Dr. Lewis) into opening a local practice - with the ploy kicked into motion after a large conglomerate makes it clear they won't open a factory without the presence of an on-site physician. It's clear that The Grand Seduction fares best in its affable first half, as filmmaker Don McKellar has infused the proceedings with a lighthearted and thoroughly breezy feel that proves impossible to resist - with the likeable atmosphere heightened by the picturesque visuals and almost uniformly appealing performances. (Gleeson's typically charismatic turn is matched, surprisingly enough, by Kitsch, as the notoriously wooden actor delivers his most compelling and relaxed performance to date here.) It's clear, though, that even in its entertaining stretches, The Grand Seduction suffers from a hackneyed, superficial feel that's reflected mostly keenly in its aggressively predictable narrative - with scripters Michael Dowse and Ken Scott, for the most part, taking the movie in all of the expected directions. The movie's progressively underwhelming vibe is compounded by an overlong running time that results in a final third rife with superfluous, repetitive elements, which does, naturally, dull the impact of the film's feel-good final stretch and confirms The Grand Seduction's place as a watchable yet erratic comedy. (The original, it's ultimately clear, is a much, much more accomplished piece of work.)