Bad Hollywood Trends

The Rise of the Mini-Adult Child

Hey Hollywood, what’s with all those kids who sound like my therapist?

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As movies go, 500 Days Of Summer has a lot going for it. It’s smart, original, just the right amount quirky, and it features Hall And Oates, choreographed dance routines in public spaces and Regina Spektor. But—and this is major—it also features the most irritating onscreen trend going: the mini-adult child.

(OK—remember the Chloe Moretz character who played Tom’s little sister? The girl who was like 10 but sounded more like a 50-year-old therapist the way she doled out all that straight-talking, articulate sage advice about life and love? Remember? Refresh your memory here.)

These mini-adult characters crop up in TV and movies a lot these days. Juno is a classic example. Suburgatory‘s Tessa Altman and her sidekick Lisa can now be added to that pot, too. Reaching back a bit, prepubescent Jonah and his gal pal from Sleepless In Seattle fit the bill. That kid from Modern Family is well on his way. 

You know these characters. They’re wise yet composed, they speak in adult cadences and have a cool confidence that is disconcerting and all the stranger because you don’t even know any adults who are that way in real life. 

They’re sarcastic and world-weary and call their parents by their first names and generally don’t see a distinction in status between themselves and the grown-ups in their lives (except perhaps that the grown-ups are dimmer).

I’m sure that the first few times I saw this trope I was entirely charmed. There is something adorable about a tiny person exhibiting such self-assurance and an unexpected attitude and outlook. It’s delightful because it’s incongruous—all this wisdom and adult-vibe flowing out of a small frame and a baby moon face with clear, unwrinkled skin. But enough is enough.

These kids are tiring. And distancing, ultimately. All that cleverness and stoicism take you out of the moment and the story. This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with hyper-articulate, precocious kids in and of themselves. It just seems that no matter their personalities, kids should still be kids. Abigail Breslin in Definitely, Maybe, for instance, is edible and darling and a great example of an “advanced” kid who’s still a kid. Because otherwise it’s impossible to connect with a child that has no shred of kid left in them. There is a vulnerability and innocence and sense of wonder to little creatures that is heartening, true and life-affirming. And when those things are absent, it feels like a loss.

There is something adorable about a tiny person exhibiting such self-assurance. But enough is enough.Meredith Hoffa

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