Nostalgia is a funny thing. Here we are in the year 2011 and a few days from the release of “Scream 4,” the success of which will depend on fondness for the franchise’s origins 15 years ago. We’ve seen quite a bit of this hearkening back recently, and with the return of the Ghostface killer maybe we’re about to be thrown into full-on ‘90s flashbacks. New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys will be on tour this summer, after all, and it seems that we could be moving away from our recent ‘80s obsession (perhaps killed with a look at “Band of the Hand”?) into a more recent memory lane.
Which makes it even more appropriate to take a look at one of Neve Campbell’s early films for this week’s Short Starts. “Love Child” premiered in 1996, just two months before “Scream” and the launch of the young actress’s career. And in the same way that “Scream 4” will look back at the mid-90s, “Love Child” looks back at the mid-’70s and its blend of sexual openness and fluorescent turtleneck sweaters.
The short opens with nine-year-old Murray Murray, an earnest kid with a bit of an anxiety problem. His friend Nancy kicks things off by telling him all about sex, which of course she says she’s learned from her older sister Deidre (Neve Campbell). Poor Murray is just kind of horrified, mostly by the thought of what his parents might be doing at night, and it inspires a series of ridiculous nightmares. At the same time, though, it also sets him down the rabbit hole of pubescent love for Deidre. His dreams are populated by these terribly cliché but surprisingly endearing images of the object of his affection running through a field of wheat in a shift and a little garland of flowers, as an orchestra weeps over her beauty.
Thankfully, Campbell does a pretty good job playing both the fantasy in Murray’s dreams and the authentic teenager. In his head she’s all smiles and silent adoration, the daydream of a boy who has yet to grow up. From the audience though, it’s a bit different. To Murray, Deidre is a grown woman, intimidating and beautiful, but in reality she’s just another awkward teenager. The interactions between her and Murray’s older brother Tom are hesitant and confused, perhaps even more strained by youthful insecurity than the fighting between their younger siblings. This delicate balance in Campbell’s performance adds a veracity and nuance to her final chat with Murray; she’s older and wiser but she also reminds us that awkwardness doesn’t just plague nine-year-olds.
And that nuance, the character that Campbell and writer/director Patrick Sisam bring to life is exactly what makes this short film work. Of course “Love Child” is about poor young Murray’s struggle to understand sexuality, but that alone isn’t enough to make the story interesting or genuine. Deidre (and her sister Nancy) are both portrayed as complex and real characters that are insecure and just as scared of growing up as Murray, but they express it in their own ways. It’s refreshing, especially in the context of a story we see so often. Take a look: