A tender character study about two children from entitled families reacting in different ways to the breakups of their respective families, Rich Kids does a lot with a little. The story is microscopic in scale, and the stakes are as small as the 12-year-old hearts that get broken when two households implode. Rich Kids is akin to same year’s Kramer vs. Kramer, but while Kramer made a serious statement about the impact of shifting gender roles on the nature of the American family, Rich Kids approaches the subject matter from a more lighthearted perspective. Perhaps that’s why the film, despite its convincing you-are-there textures, its endearing characterizations, and its wonderful acting, sometimes drags: Rich Kids is a piffle about a weighty topic.
The film’s protagonist is Franny Phillips (Trini Alvarado), a wise-beyond-her-years preadolescent living in New York City’s tony Upper West Side. Her parents, Paul (John Lithgow) and Madeline (Kathryn Walker), have been separated for weeks, but they endeavor to hide that fact from their only child—for instance, Paul sneaks into the house around six o’clock every morning to create the illusion he’s waking up there, even though he resides elsewhere. Yet Franny has pieced clues together, so she shares her discoveries with Jamie Harris (Jeremy Levy), the new kid at school. Because his parents recently divorced, Jamie tells Franny what to expect, becoming Virgil for her travels through an emotional inferno. Almost inevitably, Franny and Jamie develop romantic feelings for each other, eventually creating a fake “marriage” with the idea of coupling more successfully than their parents.
Directed by the sensitive Robert M. Young and overseen by Robert Altman, whose company produced the film, Rich Kids is filled with believable characters. Lithgow personifies a man struggling to reconcile his selfish qualities (he ditches his wife for a younger woman) with his selfless ones (he doesn’t want his daughter to become another sad victim of a broken home). Conversely, Terry Kiser—who plays Jamie’s dad—represents a midlife crisis in full bloom, right down to the bimbo girlfriend, the fast car, and the tricked-out bachelor pad. However, it’s the kids who truly resonate. Alvarado and Levy give fully realized performances, conveying depth and dimension without any hints of cloying cuteness. Rich Kids is far from perfect. Writer Judith Ross pulls her punches at regular intervals, just as she fails to deliver laugh-out-loud comic highlights; the movie is mildly amusing and mildly moving. That said, better to strive for those lofty sensations and nearly achieve them than not to try at all.
Rich Kids: GROOVY