THE KID

The Kid
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THE KID



Written by Heather Kennedy
04 Monday 04th October 2010
It was the gathering momentum of David Peltzer’s A Child Called ‘It’ that sparked the phenomenal surge of abuse memoirs into UK bookshops and paved the way for the dominance of ‘misery literature’ or ‘mis lit’. Peltzer’s autobiographical account of childhood abuse and neglect opened Pandora’s Box on the marketability of traumatised infancy. Titles such as Please Daddy, No and Broken, a book which promises readers “the most shocking true story of abuse ever told”, competed for success in an increasingly competitive market.
 
The Kid, based on Kevin Lewis’s bestselling memoir of the same name marks the genre’s first journey into cinema. Despite lucrative sales, the backlash that followed ‘mis lit’ has been palpable. Blogs have sprung up pouring scorn on authors. Titles have been shunned by the literary intelligentsia. With credible actors such as Bernard Hill and Rupert Friend, The Kid attempts to move beyond the tasteless connotations that have marred the genre and position itself within the respected tradition of British kitchen sink realism. 
 
 
In this aspiration The Kid fails. Events play out like stilted pastiches of urban squalor, entirely lacking in narrative tension. Characters are crudely sketched cartoons, either sentimental heroes or pantomime villains, without integrity or depth. Lewis’ mother is a grotty, foul-mouthed ogre. Bernard Hill is the warm hearted cardigan-clad social worker. His sermon to colleagues on how the destructive young Kevin is not bad but sad could have been lifted straight from the pages of a Barnardosresearch report.
 
Elsewhere, audiences are treated to an indulgent nostalgia fest, awash with lazy referencing of a bygone era. None of this has any significance in terms of character or plot development. Rubik’s cubes and ska hats make ill advised cameos. The film clatters with missed opportunities to pose difficult questions about the nature of abuse and its impact. In a society that has dwindling sympathy for abuse victims who find their way towards anti-social behaviour or criminality, The Kid leaves us cosily unchallenged in our assumptions.
 
 

And it is hardly surprising that characters don’t shimmer with complexity and intrigue. They have after all been crafted solely from one person’s early memories of a harrowing childhood. Abused or otherwise, few of us looking back could provide much thematic insight on the events that shaped us. Figures will always tend to reappear as heroes or villains. This is the nature of memory. Kevin as a child and adolescent is no more than a vague outline of a traumatised urchin. And how could this be otherwise? Aside from the disturbing impact of abuse, most of these events occurred at an age when Kevin was still developing full sense of self.
 
And herein lays the fundamental pitfall of the misery memoir: memory might be one of our most precious creative resources, but as this film proves, it is a raw material and cannot stand alone. The genre’s foray into cinema does nothing to overcome this shortcoming. In fact, the switch from the single focus autobiography to film, where a broader vision and range of dimensions is required, compounds the failings of The Kid.  
 
 
Regrettably, the full poignancy of memory rarely carries past its owner. Glimpsing the tangible reality of someone else’s pain is a rare and fragile thing. It doesn’t happen automatically. Such are the barriers between human beings and you need insight and ingenuity to break them down. This film has neither. Despite a skilled performance by Rupert Friend, Kevin’s pain is banal and forgettable. And in this sense, the film does a disservice to his experiences and any well meant motivation for choosing to share them. 
 
For the most part, misery memoirs in their current manifestation offer a murky and futile experience to the audience. They teach us very little. Unsurprisingly coloured by their pain, authors deliver accounts where nuance and complexity are thin on the ground. Victims of abuse deserve our support and compassion but it’s unfair to raise them to hero status and expect them to hold the shortcut to truth. When fame and wealth beckon, these victims can’t be blamed for accepting. We have come to fetishise this victimhood in a way that denies any transcendence for the abused.
 
Authors speak about the catharsis they feel in putting pain to paper. The psychological benefits are widely noted, but this still leaves us with the somewhat unpleasant question of why as audiences we pursue these memoirs with such zeal. Our thirst for misery memoirs once again proves our prurient desire to pore over the suffering of others. The oft-trotted explanation that we love a tale of triumph over adversity comes apart when you look at the success of more upbeat sequels, such as Jennifer Storm’s Leave the Light On. Memoirs detailing how authors overcame their demons rarely find their way onto the best seller list, unlike their eye wateringly grim debuts. Pitched as the tale of innocence vs. evil, ‘mis lit’ couches itself in moral sanctity. This allows us to indulge in unsavoury voyeurism, free of guilt. It’s the literary equivalent of a free-range Egg McMuffin and will leave you feeling every bit as spiritually bankrupt. Unfortunately for fledgling director Nick Moran, despair in The Kid translates tamely onto the screen and readers driving the ‘mis lit’ phenomena are unlikely to be coaxed out of their arm chairs.

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