‘Showbiz Kids’ review: Alex Winter’s HBO documentary examines Hollywood’s disturbing history with child actors


Headlines about former child actors caught up in controversy and trouble have become almost a cliché, but Winter (the less famous half of ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’) focuses on it from multiple angles, interviewing the two adults who worked in movies and TV as kids, while also featuring a few youngsters looking to make their way into the business now.

It is soberly noted at the outset that the overwhelming majority of those who brave this career path will never end up being chosen. For those who have made it, mixed feelings about the toll of their young lives resonate loud and clear.

“I gave up my childhood for this industry, and it wasn’t my choice,” says Wil Wheaton, adding, “I don’t know a seven-year-old kid who’s like, ‘What I want to do is ‘is going to work.'”

Wheaton also opens up about her ‘Stand by Me’ co-star River Phoenix – who died of a drug overdose at age 23 – saying, “I was and am so angry at the predators around him. who didn’t try to help him.”

Even comments from those who grew up and stayed in Hollywood can sound vaguely chilling, like Evan Rachel Wood – an HBO “Westworld” star – who says of his upbringing, “I was raised to do this.”

Candid interviews also include Milla Jovovich, who talks about being sexualized at a young age; Todd Bridges, another cautionary tale and victim of abuse; Disney Channel star Cameron Boyce, who tragically died of a seizure last July; Mara Wilson (“Mrs. Doubtfire”); Jada Pinkett Smith, who appeared in “A Different World” before becoming a mother of child actors; and Henry Thomas, whose audition video for “ET the Extra-Terrestrial” is among the highlights.

These conversations are intercut with those of a young wannabe and his mom, who insists she’s not a “stage mom” as she drags the kid off to auditions and a coach by interim.

Winter also incorporates child silent film star Diana Serra Cary and explains the Coogan Law, the California measure passed to protect children after Jackie Coogan (the child of “The Champ”) was defrauded of his income by his family. . (These concerns, among others, have also migrated to the exploitation of children on social media.)

“No one ever asked me how I was doing,” Wood recalled, while Boyce insisted on the difficulty of adjusting as child actors grow up and the madness when “your teenage life is documented so the whole world can see it.”

Another point is how easily it is forgotten that these little performers are children, with uncomfortable clips of children being slammed, for example, on Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel’s film review show.

While each of the adult actors has an individual story to tell, clear themes emerge from their collective memories. They’re the kind that make you want to grab contemporary kids — the ones whose families still harbor those dreams of Technicolor stardom — and urge them to click their heels and go home.

“Showbiz Kids” airs July 14 at 9 p.m. on HBO. Like CNN, HBO is a unit of WarnerMedia.


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