Unaccompanied Minors

| December 16, 2006

There’s just something about too much child acting, something, something that doesn’t seem right. The new Christmas flick Unaccompanied Minors features an ensemble of said children doing their darndest to perform their parts of the script. Each of their efforts is admirable, good even, and I’m positive that every line of their respective parts was nailed, perfectly, with not one line flubbed. But somehow, that doesn’t seem to help.
This film tries to juggle a lot, and though no ‘ball’ is dropped exactly, there are times when the juggler’s perspiration becomes slightly too distracting to the actual feat he’s performing. The original arc of this film emanates from a Susan Burton story from the formerly locally broadcast This American Life radio program. It’s a story heavily poignant with the responsibilities that unfairly befall young siblings of divorced parents. And while the overwhelming focus of Barton’s story centers on this responsibility, the film seems more interested in stealing it’s unusual setting to tell it’s holiday tale: ‘Unaccompanied minors’ are ‘collected’ in some back-room of a shut-down O’Hare and forge an odd independence as they are postponed in the liminal space between ‘mommy and daddy.’ The effects of divorce on kids seems far too ‘upsetting’ or ‘complicated’ of a ‘theme’ for what ‘wants’ to be holiday fare though, so more familiar character tropes of ‘rich girl’, ‘nerdy/cool girl’, ‘big, bad, boss guy’, and ‘zany, nerdy kid’ are implemented to accomplish the far more familiar theme of ‘saving Christmas despite the circumstances.’
Which is okay if you think about this film as a ‘Christmas movie.’ In that context, it’s fine, even good, by comparison. Lewis Black, as the ultimate ‘ba-hum-bug’ bad guy, quickly gets you to question why he isn’t the bad guy in every movie. And though Wilmer Valderrama is almost ‘non-existently’ weak as the kids’ one friend or ‘shepherd,’ a bizarre Kids in the Hall cameo, as well as an even more bizarre Teri Garr sighting more than make up for it.
But this brings us back to the kids again, who really have a tough-task at hand in juggling these gestured ‘divorced’ responsibilities–which still get some mention–with the now heightened pressure of ‘saving Christmas’ for all the other ‘weary’ and ‘abandoned’ souls also left in the purgatorial ‘in-between’ of O’Hare (add to this task the traditional turning of the bad Black’s heart from a lump of coal to the center of ‘Santa’s’ chest, and you see that it’s quite a daunting task indeed).
And again, these kid’s all deliver every line as they should, and perform each of their caricatures with an apt earnestness, but really, the thing is… I think it’s just too much for the little guys. There’s a noticeably shining exception when a one Tyler James Williams–playing the nerdy type–breaks out into a montage of unabashed-dance-mania. My reaction to it, though, more so than just the intended laughter and appreciation for the wide range of moves he was busting, was something a lot closer to relief. For this was one of the rare instances when the kids could just be kids. And though there are many more moments ‘designed’ for these young actors to perform the same feat in this film, all of them are far too limited to their respective stereotypical ‘roles’–the rich girl getting pampered, the overweight nerdy kid… nerding–which is ‘functional’ is guess, but still somewhat tougher to watch.
Between the hackneyed-ass roles that these kids are relegated to maintaining, and the added mess of everything else the script and storyline try and get them to accomplish, one really comes away with the feeling that they wish these kid’s could’ve just been more… kid-like. Afterall, it is Christmas time, when we all just wanna feel like eight-year-olds again right? But these kid’s never get anywhere close to such indulgences, which is a shame really, cause it ends up inadvertently making almost the same point as the original Susan Barton story: that kids… sometimes… just want to be kids, and isn’t a shame when they are unfairly shackled with responsibilities that make that natural innocence impossible. Which, I gotta say, is pretty heavy fare for a Christmas movie.

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