Released: March 12, 2021
Watched: March 13, 2021
Premise: A documentary directed and produced by Soleil Moon Frye (known for playing Punky Brewster on TV) centered around clips of teen television stars hanging out off-camera. Frye carried a camera around with her everywhere she went; those footage was stored and forgotten about until Frye found them as an adult and went through them, deciding to make a documentary, interviewing other teen stars reflecting on those times.
On one level, it’s less an straightforward “Where Are They Now?” documentary and more in-the-moment expression of the experience of growing up in the public eye. On a deeper level, it’s a retrospective documentary examining the fallibility of memory, the universal struggle of living and grappling with one’s personal demons, and the importance of recognizing and supporting each other through these struggles. We often don’t realize until too late how much we love and are loved in each moment.
Content warning: suicide, drug use, sexual assault
The juxtaposition of Frye’s private and public personas is fascinating to watch; all of her anti-drug and anti-sex PSAs while she was partying with her friends. There is an dark undercurrent tone as they cope with the challenges of growing up in the public eye, not quite adults, but being thrust into very adult situations.
It’s very telling when Mark-Paul Gosselaar, famous child star, explicitly states he would never let his kids become child stars themselves.
In theory, in the pre-internet era, individuals had space to fuck up and make mistakes. I found these footage refreshingly real, because they didn’t have anxiety of being immortalized on the internet for the wrong reasons. But it also underscores the fact that so many of these individuals were clearly struggling with their own personal demons, displaying signs that only becomes apparent in retrospect. There is a poignant moment when Jonathan Brandis, a former child star who died from suicide, explicitly confesses his suicidal thoughts on camera. Would he have lived if someone had really listened to him?
I’m reminded of all the recent deaths of Glee stars (Naya Rivera, Cory Monteith, and Mark Salling) , in addition to all other former child stars who’ve struggled with their off-camera lives (i.e., Drew Barrymore, Lindsay Lohan, just to list a few). We are obviously not doing enough to protect vulnerable child stars facing enormous pressure to be perfect fully-functional adults. We have a tendency to be too self-centered to reach out to others who might be struggling.
Overall, the documentary is worth watching. But it has technical problems that made for a frustrating viewing experience.
Often, the closed captions cover up the chyron identifying individuals on the screen, forcing me to pause to decipher the names. Relocating the captions or the chyron would have made watching the movie easier.
Not familiar with many actors featured in the documentary, I found myself having to pause the documentary often to google them. It would have been helpful to display the shows they starred in under their names. Oddly, the non-actor individuals (i.e., Andrew Dorff, Perry Farrell, Harold Hunter) have their profession listed under their names. So why the inconsistency for the actors?
These chyrons are displayed as an black box with white font, almost like old-school Line 21 TV captions. This style is also used for subtitles in certain video clips where speech is garbled, so everything just looks identical, especially with closed captions overlaid on top. The chyrons and the subtitles should each have their own style different from the closed captioning for visual clarity.