If you made a movie of this column, there's a good chance it would look an awful lot like Don McKellar's 2004 flick, Childstar.
Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
We’re slightly ashamed we haven’t profiled Childstar before. Even though it’s less than 10 years old, Don McKellar’s film is somewhat tricky to track down. One of its underlying themes is basically the same as that of this very column: that there are great, local films and filmmakers amidst the terrible American blockbusters that come up to Toronto to shoot.
Childstar unabashedly takes place in Toronto and stars McKellar as an aspiring director forced to take on the role of chauffeur for a teen heartthrob, who’s in town to shoot a wonderfully terrible Hollywood production. (Side note: The not-entirely-implausible film-within-a-film is called First Son. It’s an action thriller about the president of the United States being captured by terrorists, and his preteen son fighting back.)
The film’s opening shot finds McKellar filming down in the port lands, an area we’ll return to a few times.
The set of First Son, for example, is down at the Marine Terminal 51 area. You can see the lake poking through in the back there, eh.
And when McKellar’s car breaks down late in the movie, it’s on Unwin Avenue, right in front of the Hearn Generating Station…
…even though the preceding shot, out on Meadowvale Road, suggests we’re somewhere in the sticks.
There’s only one skyline shot of the city, and it’s a wonderfully gloomy, autumnal shot, complete with a cloud-amputated CN Tower.
Hey, it’s Dave Foley as First Son‘s put-upon director!
And here’s anther Toronto boy, Gil Bellows, as the film’s Diet Coke–swigging Hollywood producer. He visits McKellar at a hospital, played by Humber Regional, which is the go-to hospital for local film shoots.
First Son‘s president is the great Michael Murphy, who has been in everything from Woody Allen’s Manhattan to CBC’s This is Wonderland. (Amusingly, he played the vice president in the recent White House Down, which is too close to First Son for our comfort.)
Post-production for First Son takes place at Mount Pleasant’s Regent Theatre…
…the lobby of which we also get a glimpse of.
It also plays the film-festival theatre seen in the movie’s opening and final scenes.
In a crucial sequence, McKellar takes the titular child star (played by Mark Rendall) for a night on the town with his co-star, Chip Metzger, (played by Brendan Fehr), himself a former child star, burdened by his past. They cruise down Yonge Street, north of Eglinton…
…but end up at the Alto Basso bar on College Street, since lost to the mists of time. (It now seems to be Crawford Street.)
A little lighting turns the same location into a dance club…
…and the characters go for a stroll on College Street afterwards.
Afterwards, Chip attends an AA meeting at this location (now a Daisy Mart)…
…and goes to this garishly painted bar, which turns out actually to be next door.
We can see it a bit better from the outside. It’s Good Boy Billiards, on Keele Street, providing a definitive answer to the age-old question, “Has any Fast Times at Ridgemont High cast member spent time on Keele Street?” (Yup, that’s Jennifer Jason Leigh.)
McKellar interrupts a modelling shoot in this gymnasium…
…at Essex Public School, where Rendall’s character has gone AWOL.
Looking to get away from things, he and his new gal pal, played by Kristin Adams, head up to Black Creek Pioneer Village.
We haven’t even mentioned the simple pleasures of cameos by Eric Stoltz, another Fast Times alum, as Rendall’s douchey dad…
…who, yes, is jamming out some trumpet licks with the guys from Sloan….
…and, in a moment of absolutely perfect casting, Robin Thicke’s father as Rendall’s sitcom father.
More locally speaking, there’s McKellar’s roommate, played by Tracy Wright…
Since his lead role here, Rendall has survived his own child-stardom and has carved out a nice career for himself with the likes of a lead role in Victoria Day, and a little arc on the first season of Hannibal—which ended, you know, not well for his character. McKellar pretty much never goes wrong in our book (well, almost never) so you should darned well try to track down Childstar if you haven’t before. Watch it with Last Night for a nice, all-McKellar double bill.