And so it’s July 27th. We’ll take this one waaaaaay back, 27 years to be exact, to the year 1990. In an age when unruly kids were all the rage in film, one stood out due to his ginger locks, fascination with bow ties, and inability to keep a home for the first seven years of his life. His name was Junior, and he was the quintessential “Problem Child,” and this week we’re looking at his journey in…
“Problem Child” was released in theaters on July 27th, 1990, a whopping 27 years ago today. It starred Michael Oliver as Junior, an orphaned 7-year-old who’d been adopted and “returned” 30 times due to his unruly nature. The 90’s saw several other menacing children as leads, most notably Kevin McCallister or Dennis Mitchell from “Home Alone” and “Dennis the Menace,” but Junior has a different story in that his smart-mouthed behavior is due to an underlying issue. There’s a reason for his crudeness that adds a little more depth to his story.
But not many saw that with this film. Generally speaking, critics found the adoption theme to be poorly represented, the comedy darkened by the nightmarish acts of this boy. When he’s adopted by the Healys, he instantly causes terror by antagonizing the cat and causing his new grandfather to fall down the stairs. This kid is violent, which could inadvertently point to some possibly deeper, mental issue. The dichotomy of the comedy and a more serious issue layers this film, so it’s a wonder why critics didn’t put more stock into it.
But perhaps its the charm of the kid star, or even the styling of the film. It’s very slapstick-y and lacks any modicum of realism in its gags. It’s very “Less Than” Kevin’s antics in “Home Alone,” and the acting lacks as well. It’s no wonder the star didn’t really go much further in his acting career, appearing only in the film’s sequel and other minor roles elsewhere. But regardless of all these negatives, the film still did deliver in the box office which is why it spawned two sequels, an animated television show, and is still today inspiring ideas, as a live-action series is currently in the works.
“Problem Child” may not be the best rotten child film of it’s time, but it has some elements that help it stand out and leave some sort of memory behind. And although Junior seems bad to the core, he’s got an unquenched desire to be wanted. The film also stars John Ritter (best known as Jack Tripper from Three’s Company) as Junior’s adopted dad, who seems to soften the film a bit with his good nature and pure love. It’s a love that Junior shares, giving this film a sugary ending amidst it’s sour havoc.