This article discusses drug addiction and abuse. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off- campus resources.
Everything was not always sunshine and palm trees for child actors in the 1990s, especially when they had to grow up on and off camera.
Hulu’s latest documentary “Kid 90” features former child actor Soleil Moon Frye, known for starring as the eponymous lead in the NBC sitcom “Punky Brewster,” revisiting her trove of diaries, camera footage and paraphernalia from the 1990s.
Following Frye’s coming-of-age in bildungsroman-type fashion, “Kid 90” peers behind the curtain of childhood acting through her personal collection of cassette tapes filmed in the 1990s. Featuring her footage of young Leonardo Dicaprio, Mark Wahlberg and Mario Lopez on various sets, Frye was the original vlogger, constantly videotaping her daily life on set and beyond.
Clips of interviews with Frye and fellow child actors, along with vintage snippets of home tapes, provide an intimate look into the trials and tribulations of young actors navigating their private and professional lives.
“Kid 90” also stands out in terms of its visual experience. The quality of editing is top-notch, and the overlaid journal entries and spliced cassette footage provided by Frye create a personal yet cinematic ambiance that stands as a paragon of filmography in its field.
Following Frye’s journey in the industry, the documentary tackles issues like relevancy, drug abuse and identity by peering back into the lives of these young actors.
“Kid 90” excels at portraying these struggles, utilizing Frye’s cassette footage to artfully contrast the public personas presented by child actors with the realities of their lives. The reality of these actors’ situations is reexamined through the lense of Frye’s camera, shaping the most well-executed part of the documentary. In Frye’s case, clips of her speaking at anti-substance events were set against her own footage of heavy drinking and drug use.
The drug abuse plotline serves as the centerpiece of the documentary, as the film makes a committed effort to depict the dangers associated with entering the acting industry at a young age. A heartbreaking number of Frye’s friends died from overdoses as young adults, leaving behind a dark legacy framed as a cautionary tale about young fame.
While “Kid 90” succeeds in artfully illustrating life as a young actor in the 1990s, it fails in presenting a consistently intriguing narrative. The initial intrigue quickly turns into boredom as the documentary becomes repetitive and cold.
Oversaturation of the substance abuse narrative diminishes the viewing experience and disregards other important aspects of the child actor experience like red carpet events, auditions and family life. At times, it feels as though everything “Kid 90” has to offer is this one narrative.
It would have been preferable for the showrunners to diversify the content of the documentary to avoid the monotonous humdrum halfway through. For example, instead of continually examining drug issues among Frye’s friends, the documentary could have also focused on highlighting recovered survivors of addiction and their later successes in life.
With such a serious topic, it is important for the media to portray addiction as something that people suffer from rather than villainizing it, thereby highlighting the importance of showcasing survivors and their achievements.
This plot issue, however, is just symptomatic of the bigger problem with “Kid 90,” which is its failure to carry out a bold storyline. The documentary becomes overly reliant on the footage provided by Frye when it should have avoided committing itself to such a limited scope of perspective. Instead, “Kid 90” ought to have expanded its focus to the myriad of the struggles these young actors faced.
The whole documentary errs on the side of vanilla-ism with a lack of poignancy and risk throughout. “Kid 90” would have been better served by looking at the topic of child acting through a new, unique lense, actively attempting to push the boundaries of conventional perceptions of Hollywood.
Resources: On-campus confidential resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Services (202-687-6985); additional off-campus resources include the SAMHSA National Helpline (1-800-662-4357) and the American Addiction Centers Hotline (888-661-1587).