“Are our memories real or are they stories we want to tell ourselves?”Soleil Moon Frye
In the mid-80’s, American audiences were introduced to and fell in love with an adorable young foster child named Punky Brewster, portrayed by an 8-year-old Soleil Moon Frye, who was being raised by single foster parent Henry (the late George Gaynes).
What the audience didn’t know were the pressures that were impacting Frye, and many of her childhood celebrity counterparts, behind the scenes as they worked in and navigated a primarily adult industry.
Therein lies the premise of the film, comprised from over hundreds of hours of footage that Soleil took and locked away for approximately 20 years before again viewing.
With several friends and child stars like Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Brian Austin Green, Tori Leonard, David Arquette, and Stephen Dorff offering commentary and additional insight about growing up famous in the 90’s, “kid 90” gives an up-close and personal snapshot of a life that propelled some and was cut tragically short for others.
And Soleil’s own recollections are certainly disturbing at times – including the scenarios described of being treated way older than she was, as a young girl who physically developed by age 13, which culminated in her deciding to have breast reduction surgery.
She also discusses a date rape experience at the age of 17, that she unfortunately never dealt with because of the culture of the time – which was pre-Me Too – and felt it easier to bury.
And although Soleil describes losing her virginity to fellow actor Charlie Sheen as her first positive sexual experience, I would be lying if I said the mention of the him did not give me pause – considering he was 11 years older at the time (she was 18 and he was 29) and hindsight being 20/20 with his tumultuous history and that Feldman allegation.
Despite the traumas shared, Frye relates an admittedly happy childhood while working in the film business and being raised by a single mother, and a sporadically available father.
It appears this documentary is the actor/director’s attempt to process and heal from parts of her story, while encouraging others to reflect on and process their stories where needed.
However, the film relies heavily on the viewer’s knowledge of the 80-90’s, and more specifically knowledge of Soleil’s group of friends/counterparts. It’s a bit difficult to follow along or become invested in some of its stories, since a few lack exploration or full explanations, and I resorted to Google searching while watching.
I definitely didn’t have any recollection of Frye’s friend Shannon Wilsey, the late adult entertainment actress who crashed her car and subsequently shot herself, who’s mentioned by first name only.
There is also a choppy attempt to frame the period covered around several significant major events – like the OJ Simpson Bronco chase, the Rodney King verdict, and the Northridge Earthquake – whose energy would have been better utilized with further exploration of the aforementioned areas.
There is insight to be gained from the film, and it is an extremely brave move on Frye’s part to allow viewers in. Unfortunately, it does take a bit a work to muddle through parts that aren’t as polished and require further explanation.
I rate kid 90 2.5 out of 5 beats on the MMTrometer.
The film premiered March 12 and is streaming now on Hulu.
Until next thought, Thomasena