Mainstream Monday: Growing Pains - Bad Choices In Child-to-Adult Casting


Growing Pains - Bad Choices In Child-to-Adult Casting

If you think Passion of the Christ is a foreign language film…If you have no idea what an Uncle Boonmee is…If you think a Carey Mulligan is something you mark on a golf scorecard…If Domino is your favorite Quentin Tarantino movie, Mainstream Monday is the place for you! In Mainstream Monday we leave the “art” to the critics and discuss what the “other” 90% of movie fans are watching. It’s everything you love to hate about the movies. This week we’re discussing…Growing Pains.

Properly casting a film is a work of art in itself. Finding performers who possess similar qualities and/or the ability to illuminate the traits of a written character is difficult enough. When you add in the necessity of chemistry between members of any given cast, the difficulty of the task is significantly compounded. A great cast can elevate a modest script into something extraordinary. Likewise, one bad decision in casting can derail an otherwise successful film. Another factor that often contributes to the difficult task of casting is the capacity of any story to include the passage of time. When a script covers a great period of time and characters are expected to age extensively, one of two routes must be chosen.

If possible, makeup and effects can be used to mimic the effects of aging, allowing one actor to fill the role (example: Barney’s Version; the entire cast of Back to the Future). If this is not a possibility, then multiple actors must be cast to fill one role. Typically, this multiple-casting works out just fine, with child actors who are believable both in the role they are playing and as representatives of what their adult counterparts could possibly have looked like as children. While no one expects the two (or more) corresponding actors to be identical, most of the time it’s a good idea if they at least favor each other in physical appearance. Sometimes it’s obvious that the person responsible for a film’s cast has put a great deal of thought and effort into furthering the illusion that these actors are the same person. Occasionally, however, we are treated to a film where it appears the casting director simply chose two talented actors of the same sex, with no regard as to whether or not it appears possible one could grow into another. In typical Mainstream Monday fashion, I’ve listed a few examples of this and poked fun at them, accordingly.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Craig Sheffer - A River Runs Through It

One of the reasons the prospect of multiple actors playing the same character is so challenging is that actors, by nature of their highly visible profession, tend to have very distinctive features. This is definitely the case for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has one of the most distinctive mugs in the business. While Gordon-Levitt has become known as something of a heartthrob in his adult years, in A River Runs Through It, JGL was cast as the boyhood version of Craig Sheffer, a completely unremarkable adult who vaguely resembles a hungover David Boreanaz. While A River Runs Through It is the story of the vastly different directions the lives of two brothers have taken, it’s hard to imagine the kind of twists and turns an adolescence would have to take to transform young Gordon-Levitt into Sheffer, and thus the pair lands a spot on our list.

Zac Efron and Matthew Perry - 17 Again

Another choice that must have had teenyboppers’ heads spinning. The beloved boy-toy star of High School Musical, Zac Efron is cast as the seventeen year-old precursor to Matthew Perry. With all due respect to Perry, it’s hard to imagine that at any point in his life Perry would have been considered “dashing”. Efron owes much of his success to his looks and singing voice. Perry largely rose to stardom on the basis of his ability to use his features and mannerisms to bring the laughs on NBC’s hit sitcom Friends. In 17 Again we are encouraged to believe that Leslie Mann, Perry’s ex-wife and high school sweetheart, is reminded of Perry as a high-schooler when she sees Efron. Sorry, but I’m not buying it.

Dakota Fanning and Reese Witherspoon - Sweet Home Alabama

Sweet Home Alabama is a fun little rom-com centered on a big-city fashion designer (Reese Witherspoon) returning to her Alabama hometown to procure a divorce from her childhood sweetheart. Of course while she’s there she’s reminded of all the things she secretly misses, rediscovers her true self and so on. Along the way we’re treated to a few scenes that are memories of her childhood. In these scenes she’s played convincingly by impressive child-actor (at the time) Dakota Fanning. The only problem with this is, outside of the blond hair, they have a completely different set of features. Reese’s face is sharper while Dakota’s is more rounded. Dakota is doe-eyed while Reese exists in a perpetual state of almost-squinting (though she remains a step or two above Renee Zellwegger in that department). Sure they’re both adorable, but they’re far from carbon copies.

Ryan Gosling and James Garner - The Notebook

This is nothing like the Efron-Perry quandary of 17 Again. Ryan Gosling is notorious for being handsome, and Garner had more than his share of screaming fangirls in his heyday. But in the case of the tear-jerking multi-decade love story The Notebook, it seems clear (to me at least), they simply chose two very good actors based on their respective age-ranges. I know the effects of time can take a serious toll on one’s physique, but Nicholas Sparks would have to write a whole set of books to convince me that age will morph Ryan Gosling’s face into anything similar to James Garner’s. Outside of each man’s respective machismo, they don’t look, act or speak in any way that can be considered remotely similar; in life, or in this film.

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Greg Foster

I enjoy the occasional film, but most of the time I just watch movies. I'm no film student; just an old-fashioned homemade addict of cinema.
  • Anonymous

    I know you said not og et you started on it, but I actually disagree with you on Anton Yelchin/Michael Biehn.  If there was one good thing about Terminator Salvation, it was how well Yelchin channeled Biehn’s mannerisms and body language.  And it was more impressive considering a few weeks earlier, he was also the young Pavel Chekhov/Walter Koening in Star Trek.  Even though he didn’t look like one of the Monkee’s, he did have a better Russian accent than Koening did since he actually is from Russia.
    Of course, I hadn’t seen the original Terminator in a long time, so maybe my comparison is flawed, but I still thought it worked.

  • Laura Grande

    Love this idea! I also totally forgot that JGL played a young Craig Sheffer (what ever happeend to that guy anyway?). I haven’t seen A River Runs Through It in years, but you’re right on the mark when you point out their facial differences.

    I’ve never seen 17 Again and I had no idea Zac Efron was a younger Matthew Perry in the movie! Awkward.

  • Christopher Misch

    Just the thought of Efron playing a grown up Matthew Perry is laughable.

  • Greg Foster

    Yelchin is a talented performer and I actually thought he did well with the material he was given, but I saw nothing in him that made him look or feel like a younger version of Biehn. But it’s been a while since I saw the original Terminator as well. Now I have a great excuse to revisit, thanks!