The Weekly Watch: A Michael J. Fox Meta-Comedy
Wherein a former child star playing a former child star finds himself wrangling a natural talent who refuses to stick with the script.
If your family, like ours, has an insatiable appetite for audition montages, on-set hijinks, and other staples of movies about showbiz, y’all are about to hit pay dirt: Life with Mikey (1993, Disney+) is in essence an hour and a half of hammy kid performers in behind-the-scenes moments stitched together by Michael J. Fox’s banter with a precocious 10-year-old from Brooklyn. There’s a preteen who belts “Coming Up Roses”; an elementary-school-age ventriloquist with a perm; a klutzy tap dancer; and a confused magician, to mention just a few of the junior charmers who pack this movie. Grownup treasures like Christine Baranski and Victor Garber show up throughout, too.
Fox, you will have guessed, is Mikey, birth name Michael Chapman, a former child star who in his heyday rose to fame in a wildly popular, Leave It to Beaver-style groaner of a sitcom featuring lines like, “Any chance of getting time off for good behavior?” Now washed up, Chapman scratches out a living running a flailing kids talent agency with his brother, Ed Chapman (Nathan Lane); Cyndi Lauper is their ditzy receptionist/accompanist, Geena. One day, he bumps into a tween con artist named Angie (Christina Vidal) as she tries to pick his pocket. Who would have guessed: This streetwise kiddo can really act! Could she be the bankable talent who saves the family firm?
The rest of the movie answers that question as wizened viewers like you might expect. But it’s really pleasant along the way. Screenwriter Marc Lawrence worked with Fox on Family Ties and shows he knows how to showcase the actor’s gift for amiable sarcasm (Lawrence also scribed the impeccable Miss Congeniality) while director James Lapine, a Tony-winning Sondheim-collaborator, ensures that we’re laughing along with these theater kids, not at them. It’s a tap dance that the ensemble pulls off gamely. Especially early-career David Krumholz1, who plays the agency’s previously lone money-making client, Barry Corman; his delivery of lines like, “I wanna grow artistically, I wanna work with Michelle Pfeiffer” makes me LOL every time. Your kids may not get those references or why they are funny, but there’s a good chance they will wish they could be friends, and costars, with spirited Angie in real life.
I just really need to talk about Krumholtz for a minute. For old millennials and even some young Gen Xers, this guy was a cinematic fixture of our youth, showing up everywhere from The Addams Family Values and The Santa Clause to The Slums of Beverly Hills and 10 Things I Hate About You. He even had brief arcs on Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks. He was in The Ice Storm (some of us followed Katie Holmes and Elijah Wood and Christina Ricci to this key party way, way too young). At 43, the guy is still a fixture of both network and prestige television, and still makes everything better: The Deuce, The Plot Against America, The Good Wife, Numb3rs. Krumholtz is currently filming the big Watergate limited series for HBO, his 118th credit on his IMDB page. Even given this impressive oeuvre, Life with Mikey continues to be my favorite performance of his career so far. The kid’s a star!