Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star

Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. Happy Madison 2003.

Before watching the movie:

I remember being probably exactly in the lower bound of the age range this movie was made for at the time, and advertised at relentlessly about it, but not at all interested because I didn’t do raunchy movies them. Now I do consider raunchy movies to capture valid facets of the human experience, I just disapprove if they’re raunchy in ways I don’t care for. And it’s an early 2000s movie, so there will probably be jokes that aged terribly.

This movie seems to package David Spade’s type pretty well. I’ve enjoyed him in a few more family friendly things, but that often sanded down his edge a bit too much. This is probably going to be too much David Spade edge.

After watching the movie:

Dickie Roberts’s mother pushed him into acting as an extension of her own lackluster showbiz career, and in the 70s, it paid off in the form of catchphrase-spouting breakout member of The Glimmer Gang, a show with Partridge Family vibes. However, when the show saw a ratings decline and cancellation, Dickie spent decades struggling to regain a sliver of the fame he had as a child actor, and now ekes out a living as an L.A. valet with occasional appearances on trashy reality shows trading on his old glory, and often appearing in tabloids for bad behavior. Reaching a complete low point, Dickie is determined to make the real comeback to restart his career and create the happy ending for an autobiography deal, and stakes it all on getting the lead in Rob Reiner’s new project Mr. Blake’s Backyard. Reiner tells him that it’s a very grounded, genuine character, and while he’s a big fan of Dickie, he’s completely wrong for the part because he’s never had a grounded, genuine life thanks to having a completely unnatural childhood. Seizing on that, Dickie declares that if that’s the whole problem, all he has to do is live a normal childhood by the time they have to make the casting decision, and runs out to hire a family to raise him. George Finney, car dealership owner who’s never home, unilaterally takes the job without consulting his family, forcing Dickie on his wife Grace and kids Sam and Sally, who are completely creeped out by this grown man with a limited understanding of human relationships.

This was a lot deeper and not nearly as raunchy as I expected. I think I may have gotten a little confused with The Hot Chick, which came out a year earlier, was also aggressively marketed at teens, wasn’t even David Spade, and also looks like it has more heart than it was sold on. Dickie’s public misbehavior is mostly alluded to rather than shown or described in detail, and the most tabloid-worthy exploits seem to be a past chapter of his life he wants to move on from.

I usually appreciate movies that make heavy use of celebrities playing themselves, but in this case it didn’t do much for me because they’re mostly the former child stars of 2003, who were children on TV in the 60s-80s, which I didn’t really have any recognition of until they start talking about being on The Brady Bunch or other shows I have less osmotic pop culture knowledge of. Take away those and the hosts of trashy syndicated shows I never watched, and I think the only cameos left are Tom Arnold, Brendan Fraser, and Rob Reiner.

Of course, the real center of the movie is Dickie and the family, and they do find their dysfunctional connection. They learn and grow through each other by being honest and reaching out, and I think maybe that worked better with the kids than the mom. Dickie and Grace are friendly, but Grace seems more like a friend and mentor to him than where the movie wants to end up with them. She’s been assigned the role of his surrogate mother, but that doesn’t quite work, and neither does the ultimate direction. Dickie’s strongest relationship is with the family he never had, not with any of them individually.

As a fun little vehicle, this is great popcorn fare. The main novelty it trades in has an expiration date that blew by a long time ago, but not in a “you can’t get away with that anymore and that’s a good thing” way. Altogether this is a nice way to pass some time with the older kids in your life, and maybe it will become something special for them, but if it was ever going to be something special for me, it’s lost its chance by now.


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