Rich Kids

Rich Kids
Director: Robert M. Young
Screenplay: Judith Ross
Stars: Trini Alvarado (Franny Philips), Jeremy Levy (Jamie Harris), Kathryn Walker (Madeline Philips), John Lithgow (Paul Philips), Terry Kiser (Ralph Harris), David Selby (Steve Sloan), Roberta Maxwell (Barbara Peterfreund), Paul Dooley (Simon Peterfreund), Irene Worth (Madeline’s Mother), Diane Stilwell (Stewardess), Dianne Kirksey (Ralph’s Secretary)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1979
Country: U.S.Rich Kids Blu-ray
Rich KidsOne of the biggest hits of 1979 was Robert Benton’s divorce drama Kramer vs. Kramer, which was not only the highest grossing film of the year, but the winner of five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was also widely lauded for its even-handed depiction of divorce, which had been rising steadily in the U.S. throughout the decade due to cultural shifts and the passage of no-fault divorce laws. For all anyone knew by the end of that year, there had never been another film about divorce.

Yet, that same year there was another, smaller film—set, like Kramer vs. Kramer, in New York City, and released a few months earlier—that also dealt with divorce, but from a completely different perspective. Rich Kids, which was directed by Robert M. Young and produced by Robert Altman when he was at the height of his Hollywood power, also dealt directly and sympathetically with the difficulties of divorce, but instead of looking at it through the perspective of the two parents (as in Kramer vs. Kramer), it viewed the world through the eyes of a pair of 12-year-olds, one whose parents are already divorced and one whose parents are on the cusp of it.

The “rich kids” of the title are Franny (Trini Alvarado) and Jamie (Jeremy Levy), who both live posh Upper West Side lives, the material benefits of which offer little salve for the emotional turmoil they endure because of their parents. Jamie’s parents are already divorced, and he lives primarily with his father, Ralph (Terry Kiser), a swinging television commercial director who is often gone on exotic location shoots and pays more attention to his various younger girlfriends and yellow Maserati than he does to Jamie. Jamie, who seems both naïve and wizened beyond his years, has already learned to deal with his parents by pretending like none of it hurts and making the best of what the situation can offer (which primarily involves taking advantage of his father’s absurd bachelor pad, which is one part neon music club and one part indoor jungle).

Franny, on the other hand, hasn’t had the chance to become hardened yet, as her parents are caught in a protracted separation that they have been attempting to hide from her. Her father, Paul (John Lithgow), has been living away from home for some time, but he still sneaks into their townhouse early every morning to make it appears as if he has slept there, a laborious enterprise that he thinks is protecting Franny even though she has already figured out what is going on (the film’s opening scene shows her watching out the window, waiting for his early-morning arrival, which she dutifully notes inside the back cover of a hidden copy of The Joy of Sex). Her mother, Madeline (Kathryn Walker), is weary and resigned to the situation, although her frustration suggests that she may not be able to hold onto the charade much longer.

Director Robert M. Young began his career as a documentarian and had only recently shifted to making fictional feature films with the independently produced ¡Alambrista! (1977), which was a rare film to deal with the issue of undocumented migrant workers in the U.S. Although not a complete success, that film demonstrated that Young had a talent for working with actors mixed with emotional sensitivity and a documentarian’s eye for detail, which is why he was quickly in demand; one could see why Altman, the director of such iconic ’70s films as M*A*S*H (1970), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1973), and Nashville (1975), would help his career.

All of this Young’s strengths are evident in Rich Kids, and even when the film feels a bit sluggish, there is always a moment of insight or humor just around the corner to perk things up (the script, by one-timer Judith Ross, doesn’t break any new ground, but it treads it well, and there is at least one outright hilarious scene when all the parents find themselves face-to-face in Ralph’s bedroom in an overheated fury over Franny and Jamie). Franny and Jamie, who go to the same private school, see themselves in each other and become good friends, and one of the things that makes Rich Kids work is the way it recognizes the delicacy of the bond between them and the complex interweaving of plutonic friendship and budding romance. Because their parents are frequently caught up in their own interpersonal dramas and sexual shenanigans, Franny and Jamie have wide latitude to operate, which frequently leaves them alone, where they act like both kids (watching scary movies together, rolling around on his dad’s waterbed, eating pizza and drinking soda) and the budding, sexualized teenagers they are soon to become. It also helps that Trini Alvarado and Jeremy Levy, who both give very good performances, look like normal, awkward, pubescent kids, rather than magazine models.

The film handles their interactions with a gentle assuredness that feels utterly natural. While they feel confident in discussing their parents’ various flaws, Franny and Jamie often have no idea what to do with each other, which results in scenes of tender humor as they fumble with their own emotions and desires. When Jamie kisses Franny at one point, it feels like both the natural extension of their interaction and what they feel like they are expected to do, even though they aren’t really ready to do it. While the ’70s was awash with films about explicit teenage sexuality, Rich Kids takes place during a period when hormones are just around the corner, rather than already raging. The reassuring sense of innocence with which it treats the latter years of childhood feel refreshing, rather than regressive.

Rich Kids Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
Audio
  • English DTS Master Audio 2.0 monaural
  • Subtitles English
    Supplements
  • Theatrical trailer
  • DistributorOlive Films
    SRP$29.95
    Release DateMay 24, 2016

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    As far as I can tell, Rich Kids has never been available on digital home video, so its release from Olive Films on Blu-ray is a major milestone for this often overlooked film. The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer looks good in the way it maintains the film’s naturalistic late-1970s aesthetic. The image is well detailed but not overly sharp, and there is a definite presence of grain throughout. Colors tend to be fairly subdued, with a lot of earth tones and grays (the film was shot in New York City in the fall and winter, so associated seasonal colors dominate). The print used looks to have been in pretty good shape with no major wear and tear, although there is some white speckling throughout. The DTS-HD Master Audio monaural soundtrack does its job well enough, presenting dialogue and ambient sound effects clearly and effectively.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    The only included supplement is an original theatrical trailer.

    Copyright ©2016 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Olive Films and United Artists

    Overall Rating: (3)



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