As someone born in the late ‘90s, I cannot, with confidence, say I am a ‘90s kid. I have some very vague memories that, honestly, are probably more from the early aughts. Despite this, I am intrigued by that era in time. Right before I had conscious memories, pre-9/11, and right as reality TV was in its infancy. It’s an itch that I’m always trying to scratch. Usually watching early seasons of The Real World or old news footage can help. Kid 90 is the first documentary that I felt transported me to this time.
Behind the Scenes
Directed by Soleil Moon Frye, the film is comprised of mostly footage she shot during the last decade of the 20th century. As a former child star, Frye was deep in the Hollywood sphere. Because of this, a lot of her time was spent with other young stars at the time. People like David Arquette, Corey Feldman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, the cast of Kids, and many many more were a part of the same social circles as Frye.
When she was young, Frye began to record her experiences. For most of the decade, she had a camera with her. She recorded her experiences with friends, at parties, getting accepted to college, and everything in between. She describes in the film that this is the first time she has watched a lot of this stuff in years.
Intimacy with Subjects
Like many documentaries, scenes are intercut with talking heads from some people featured in her videos. It’s evident to us that seeing Frye’s firsthand footage of their young adulthood immediately transports them back in time. It’s just as effective for the viewer. Being able to pull the curtain up and see some of these young stars in their natural state is endlessly thrilling.
It feels like a secret that you’re being told. The footage is so intimate, so raw, so powerful. We are watching these young kids, who are in an extraordinary situation due to their talents, and yet, they get to be kids. They get to be themselves & for those fleeting moments, when they are together, they get to be “normal.” It’s behind the scenes footage like we have never seen.
As if these clips are not powerful enough, the talking heads bring everything together. Getting to hear what it was like from the people who lived it offers such depth to the subject. I imagine that having one of their own as the director opened them up to the process. Some of their tales allow us to see vulnerable sides to the people who have been wearing masks since childhood. The catharsis they must feel – to open up about what they were going through at a time when they had to try their hardest to hide it all – is looming over the entire film.
Kid 90 is a great piece of filmmaking. Having one of the subjects as the director could have been a hindrance. Being that close to the topic is sure to bring about some biases. It does here but in a way that feels natural. It feels less like the camera is on these performers, asking them to perform yet again, and more like a friend reaching out to the people who mean the most to her. Telling them it is okay to be who they are.
As viewers, we can never fully understand what our favorite stars are put through – the mental health struggles, the pressure, the addiction, the joy, the fame. Kid 90 gives us a chance to. In doing so, actors who have only been seen as actors for most of their lives are given the chance to be seen exactly as they are: as people.