Directed by: Soleil Moon Frye
Premise: Throughout the 1990s, former child star Soleil Moon Frye video recorded herself and fellow young actors growing up in Hollywood. A quarter century later, Frye has assembled that footage into a retrospective documentary.
What Works: Giving this film and its director the benefit of the doubt, Kid 90 is a well-intentioned picture. As presented in the documentary, many of the young actors in Soleil Moon Frye’s orbit died of suicide or drug abuse. This film is an attempt by the now middle-aged actress to look back and make sense of what happened and why. Kid 90 treats matters of suicide and substance abuse respectfully and there are a few genuine and even impactful moments by Frye and her interviewees as they reflect on their youth and the cries for help that they failed to recognize.
What Doesn’t: The problem with Kid 90 is its superficiality. None of the topics are dealt with in a meaningful or substantive way. The documentary is partly an autobiography of Soleil Moon Frye and the perils of being a child star and growing up before the cameras. It’s also about drug use and the way people turn to narcotics to deal with emptiness or stress as well as the two-facedness of being a public figure; in the 1990s Frye was doing anti-drug promos while privately using narcotics on the regular. These are all interesting topics worthy of discussion and there’s probably a way to connect them into a meaningful whole but the film has nothing to say. It leaps from one idea to the next without revealing anything. Kid 90 is also unimpressive cinematically. The original footage appears to have been shot on VHS tapes or some other low-fi source and the quality of the imagery is often sketchy. In other places we are treated to answering machine messages over a blank screen. A lot of this footage consists of teenagers screwing around and few of the images are worthy of examination. The various talking heads don’t contribute much either except regret about friends who passed away. Kid 90’s lack of substance becomes especially obvious as the film draws to its conclusion. Frye attempts to pull the pieces of this documentary together but the best she can do is utter some generic platitudes about the importance of listening and being present. Looking back at these recordings was probably meaningful to Frye and to the people in them, but no meaning is conveyed to the audience.
DVD extras: Currently available on Hulu.
Bottom Line: Watching Kid 90 is like reading someone else’s high school yearbook. The images and inscriptions may hold some important associations for the owner but not for anyone else. The film offers no revelations or new perspectives on the people and places it documents.
Episode: #861 (July 25, 2021)