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Underrated & Overrated Child Performances

Andrew Payne Andrew Payne
October 10th, 2008 9:13am EDT
Little Miss SunshineEverybody loves a good child performance. This might start with parents parading their children out to sing songs at dinner parties or the endless school plays parents are forced to attend, but whatever it is, kid actors are ingrained in a positive way in the eyes of many filmgoers.

It seems that if a kid simply manages to speak in a way that can be understood the performance earns praise. It's been this way since the 1920s and has since grown to a degree that certain kiddie performers are more powerful than their veteran contemporaries.

But not all such performances are great, in fact most are terrible yet receive acclaim reserved for the finest thespians. Oddly enough, there are some terrific child performances that end up virtually forgotten.

The following are the most underrated and overrated child performances of all time:

UNDERRATED

5. Haley Joel Osment in "A.I."

Sure, the movie was terrible and that's precisely why this tremendous performance was ignored. Osment improved vastly over his fine work in "The Sixth Sense" to create a complete character. Granted, that character was a boy robot so Osment wasn't exactly required to go deep for a wide range of emotions, but his control was exquisite. This will always be overshadowed by the film's dismal quality and the more renowned work of his previous film, but this was a great performance that deserves equal recognition.




4. Macaulay Culkin in "The Good Son"

The Good SonNobody would have thought that the incorrigible scamp of "Home Alone" had it in him to play a murderous sociopath of a kid, but that' just what he did in this film. Additionally, he portrays the seemingly sweet nature of the kid convincingly as well. Despite this, this is the least remembered of his performances as the "Home Alone's" and "Uncle Buck's" of the world are all that remained in people's mind. There are many reasons why Culkin was such a huge child star and they're all found in this thriller.

3. Jena Malone in "Bastard out of Carolina"

This is little-seen Showtime film that should have made Malone the Dakota Fanning of her day. In it, she portrays a victim of child abuse, both sexual and physical who also has to deal with the shunning inherent in being an illegitimate child in the deep south. Malone handles it all brilliantly never seeing overmatched by the subject matter. It's underrated because the film was seen by so few and that Malone has vanished into the maelstrom of underrated that is stage acting.




2. Justin Henry in "Kramer vs. Kramer"

Kramer vs. KramerIt's easy to be underrated when you're acting opposite Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman, but Henry handles the pivotal role of the object of their marital contention very impressively. The most impressive thing is that he was only 8 years old at the time of filming and never seemed overmatched by the material or being in such a big film. He's the youngest Oscar nominee ever and nobody ever talks about him anymore.

1. Edward Furlong in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day"

In one of the biggest films of all time, its central character is always overlooked. Furlong does a tremendous job of handling such a difficult role in which he must play smart, play wise beyond his years, and seem at home with the future destroying his present. It's a tough role with a lot of screen time and a lot to work with, Furlong does it so well that people often forget he's a child performer in the film. He's so good he almost gave himself no choice but to be underrated.

OVERRATED

5. Christian Bale in "Newsies"

NewsiesEvery girl in her 20s' first love is Bale in this movie. He's got a funny accent, he sings, he dances, he's heroic, what's not to like? Well, this is a silly film where Bale simply acts silly - not unlike an 8-year-old imitating one his parents' old movies. Plus he was 17 at the time of filming, so he was already old enough that he should've been better.

4. Jennifer Connelly in "Once Upon a Time in America"

This incredibly long film features Connelly as the young object of a young Robert De Niro's affection. She gained a lot of acclaim for this role where she really does little more than look at her costars and say a line. There is the controversy surrounding her being 14 and appearing nude in the film - but this was actually a body double, obviously. It's that controversy that probably finds this role being overrated as many people think it required a lot of bravery for such a young girl. It really didn't, unless you think it's brave to look into the camera with a vacant stare and laconic way of speaking that would make David Duchovny's daughter on "Californication" insist you take acting lessons.




3. Abigail Breslin in "Little Miss Sunshine"

Little Miss SunshineShe's definitely improved since, but her Oscar-nominated role is highly overrated. It's not like she really did anything. She screamed, she crawled, she clawed, and mostly sat there through the rest of the film. It should be noted that this column is not made to insult children, but instead to point out misperception: It isn't Breslin's fault that this isn't nearly the performance it's made out to be, she just isn't given much to do.

2. The Kids in "E.T."

One of the more overrated films of all time, and the most overrated part is the performances of the children. Again, they just don't have much to do. Really it looks like Steven Spielberg just put them in a room with a puppet and filmed their reactions. There isn't much acting involved as the director achieves his desired impact mostly with lighting, editing and music. The same can be said for 98% of child performances, but not are more acclaimed in that regard than these.


1. Linda Blair in "The Exorcist"

She got an Oscar Nomination for wearing gross makeup. That's about how this went. This is an overwhelmingly overrated performance. She didn't even deliver all her lines for part of the role, unless you're foolish enough to believe she was doing all those devil voices that emanated from her body. She is good for the bit of the film where she's actually acting and not sitting in a bed spitting pea soup all over the place, but that's a small portion of the overall role. In reality, she's been acclaimed for exactly what's already been mentioned: wearing makeup, lying in a bed, spitting pea soup, and lip-syncing devil voices.




Check back next week for the most overrated and underrated SNL Weekend Update Hosts.

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Andrew Payne
Story by Andrew Payne

Starpulse contributing writer