Labor Day weekend has presented me with the opportunity to compare and contrast two pivotal films whose plot revolves around raising a child that isn’t your own- Francois Truffaut’s Wild Child/L’Enfant Sauvage and David M. Evans’ sweeping epic from 1996, First Kid. First, let’s note the ways in which they are similar.
First and foremost, both films employ phenomenal music to accentuate the dense philosophical plots. In the case of Truffaut, it was the classical musings of Vivaldi. In First Kid, it was the highly underrated “The Power” from Chill Rob G. Both directors made brilliant choices.
Both films explore the innocence of childhood and the yearning for freedom that accompanies the addition of responsibility in one’s life. Evans, along with collaborator Sinbad, uses a more subtle touch to paint this notion, whereas Truffaut is far more direct.
Both films feature children being mentored by individuals who are not their parents. And in both cases, the mentors feature parental methods that are unorthodox, whether it’s locking the child in a closet as punishment in Wild Child or Sinbad allowing the President’s son to take an ass-whipping in a schoolyard to teach him some humility.
In each film, deeper philosophical soul-searching happens. Is it acceptable to confine the child in Wild Child if freedom is all that he’s known? Can such a child learn the nuances of moral order, justice, right and wrong? And is it ok to put fake dog poop on the ground at a Presidential inauguration if it gets some laughs, as Sinbad once did in First Kid? Robert Guillaume would seem to think not, but I would disagree with the former star of Benson.
Another way that First Kid stands head and shoulders above Truffaut’s film is in the use of montage. Truffaut wasted a great deal of time trying to establish character, trying to establish a central theme and set of questions at the heart of the film. Had he been a skilled filmmaker in the mold of David M. Evans, he would’ve been much more efficient and cut all of that stuff out by simply showing it as part of a montage. We, the viewers, didn’t need to be bogged down by seeing Sinbad and the President’s son becoming friends over several scenes. No, it was much more effective to cram it into 90 seconds of clips.
Another point in favor of First Kid is in character development, which is driven home by the sharp, cutting wit, such as when Taylor calls the President’s kid “the first wuss” (this tells us that the kid is not held in high esteem by his peers, and that the film was made when ‘wuss’ was still a socially acceptable word); or when Sinbad keeps wearing wacky ties, which establishes for us that Sinbad’s character shuns authority and also that he is wacky. Truffaut failed in this regard.
Ultimately, both films are bits of effective cinema but it really doesn’t take a genius to see that Francois Truffaut could have refined his game a great deal if only he had been able to see First Kid before making Wild Child.