Children of the Damned
Child actors are a curious breed. Thrust into the spotlight with their age still in single digits, some have barely learned to talk (let alone act) before the directors are shouting, “Dance, monkey, dance!” One can hardly blame them, therefore, for relying solely on a signature gesture, catchphrase or speech impediment to count as their entire body of acting skills. That doesn’t make them any less irritating while doing it, though.
Innocent victims of meal-ticket-seeking stage parents they may be, but child stars have nonetheless provided us with some of the greatest film atrocities ever seen. We’re talking about the type that haunt your dreams, that make your nerves jangle and your jaw clench. The type that make you want to reach up into the movie screen, grab that cheesily-grinning, bright-eyed little face and give it a piece of your mind.
We’ve thought long and hard about this, and in a long line of smug, cutesy brats, there are a few standouts who really test the backhanding reflex to its limits. So here, for your enjoyment (and by enjoyment, we mean intense, blood-boiling rage), are the top five child actors to ever disgrace the big screen.
5. Macaulay Culkin
Just the Home Alone film poster by itself usually gets us in the mood to crush some skulls. The producers might consider selling some to sports teams to put in their locker rooms, because nothing is a bigger motivation to brutally tackle someone to the ground than the sight of that little pissant Kevin with his hands clasped to his face in a silent scream. It only gets worse in the actual film when you get to hear the fake scream in all its glory, along with the gruesome, overexaggerated twisting of the face that the young Macaulay was so delighted with. Add that to his smart-arsey, ‘kid as adult’ way of speaking, and you too will be wishing those burglars would finally outsmart him, beat him senseless with an iron bar and leave him to waste away in a back alley. Judging from his modern-day appearance (see the frightening Party Monsters if you don’t know what I mean), it appears they did.
4. Jonathan Lipnicki
Tom Cruise might have done a good job convincing us he was charmed by Renee Zellweger’s nerdy, lisping son in Jerry Maguire, but for anybody else, it’s a hell of a stretch. Guess what, kid? I don’t care that the human head weighs ten pounds, or that your next door neighbour has rabbits for pets! How about you shut the hell up and let the people who have actual training in the acting field have some screen time? And those oversize glasses that his parents no doubt forced him to wear in an attempt to up his cutesy factor at auditions are too bile-inducing for words.
3. Haley Joel Osment
The Sixth Sense star belongs to a different category of annoying screen children – the overly-intense emo kid. Like Dakota Fanning and, to a lesser extent, Abigail Breslin, these kids are so freakishly serious and committed to their craft that you just want to take them outside and introduce them to a skipping rope. Haley Joel certainly looked like he’d never seen a swing set in his life during his Hollywood heyday, when he used to haunt the red carpets of premieres with those little squinty eyes and that hangdog expression. After a breakthrough role in arguably the most irritating film of all time, Forrest Gump, his anguished and equally irritating “I see dead people” whisper in Sixth Sense became the line everybody repeated in the early noughties. To us, though, it’s just another illustration of the fact that the kid needs to lighten the hell up.
2. The Olsen Twins
OK, they’re not strictly a film phenomenon, but they’ve certainly attempted to pollute the cinema world enough times over the years, most recently in 2004’s New York Minute. Note to Hollywood – just because two girls are identical (wow, I’ve never seen that before! Let’s make a dozen different films based around the craziness that could ensue from such a concept!) and blandly attractive, that does not actresses make. We’ve seen farm animals that could recite a line with more comedic timing, and the worrying thing is, they don’t seem to have improved with age either. It seems to us their sole talent is an ability to pout in photos, but that hasn’t stopped them from amassing a fortune even Bill Gates wouldn’t be able to call junk change. Which just makes the temptation to slap them upside the head even greater.
And the top honour goes to…
1. Mara Wilson
Remember that mousey brunette girl with the wide-set, pleading eyes from Mrs Doubtfire? That soft-voiced little minion of the anti-Christ who ‘lithped’ her way through Miracle on 34th St and Matilda? We wish we didn’t. We wish we weren’t haunted, years later, with ‘Nam-style flashbacks of her sincere little face and high-pitched giggles. Why does Hollywood think child actors aren’t legitimately able to play children unless they have a speech impediment? Why can’t they talk at a normal volume, instead of that awful, put-on whisper? Mara was the embodiment of all these child star cliches, and after Mrs Doubtfire it seemed she’d never disappear. Thank God those days are over. And no, we don’t care where she is now.