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  Baxter! Growing Pains
Year: 1973
Director: Lionel Jeffries
Stars: Patricia Neal, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Britt Ekland, Lynn Carlin, Scott Jacoby, Sally Thomsett, Paul Eddington, Paul Maxwell, Ian Thompson, Ronald Leigh-Hunt, Frances Bennett, George Tovey, Frank Singuineau, Mavis Villiers, Nicholas Smith
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Roger Baxter (Scott Jacoby) is a troubled twelve-year-old whose parents have recently divorced, and now he is leaving his California home to travel to London with his mother (Lynn Carlin), his father staying behind. He has never felt especially close to either of them, mostly his mother who tends to fly into rages whenever he acts up, and this has led to a speech impediment where he can't pronounce the letter "R", something he will soon be attending a speech therapist to attempt to cure. Settling in the British capital will prove difficult because of all this, and he may not get through this time without suffering as he struggles to find his place and any love whatsoever...

If you liked the "Welease Woger!" skit in Monty Python's Life of Brian, the how about an entire movie where the protagonist has just that quirk of speech? No matter how director Lionel Jeffries, fresh off the success of The Railway Children, tried to portray this, it still looked as if star Jacoby was putting on the affectation, and the results of that was a film which at least in its first hour was looking to be too cute to believe. In its tries at generating audience affection for its title character, you could find there was a fine line between ingratiating and downright annoying, with Jacoby one of a number of precocious kids in seventies movies who might rub the viewer up the wrong way.

See also Robby Benson in the treacly Jeremy, and that uncertainty of tone where the smarter than their years, deeply sensitive youngsters were intended to be regarded as appealing yet were couched in a cloying and overly sentimental setting was an irritant of many a drama on both television and film throughout the decade. As the kids had supposedly lost their innocence about the world and were wise to the foibles of the adults who were meant to know better yet were exposed as frauds when they were no more capable than their offspring, the general tone was of a society passing on some very bad psychological habits onto their children, so what if those children were aware of this?

For some reason, though there were rather harsh depictions of the young in selected works, Ken Loach's Kes springs to mind, elsewhere precocity was the order of the day, and they didn't come much more precocious than Baxter, what with his exclamation mark and all. For about half of this, Jeffries could not find the right approach at all, uncertain at whether we were intended to laugh at the boy for his quirky sense of humour, or fall for him in a mothering sort of way as he seemed like he needed a hug from a maternal type who was definitely not his abrasive mother, a woman spectacularly unsuitable to be a parent, no matter the position of privilege she had achieved for her son. He seems to find someone who could guide him positively at least three times here, though maybe he simply needs a girlfriend, but fate will not play ball.

First, there is his neighbour in the apartment block he now stays in, played by Britt Ekland as a free-spirited type who recognises Roger's loneliness and befriends him; her boyfriend (Jean-Pierre Cassel) has the makings of a very decent father figure too, but this develops into grating scenes of them having fun together (singing showtunes, that sort of thing) which curdle as Roger realises he cannot have fun at all. Then there was the speech therapist, played by Patricia Neal as a grandmotherly figure who has a no-nonsense attitude to his defects but also a well of compassion that may be his best chance at growing up with some semblance of normality. The girlfriend role went to Sally Thomsett, who spies on Roger from across the court, and seems worth getting to know. Yet everything here was cruelly snatched away in the latter stages, leading to curious scenes reminiscent of a drugs trip for the boy as he breaks down, drawing the conclusion he's in for an equally unhappy adulthood. Really, this was all over the place, but Jeffries' concern almost rescued it. Music by Michael J. Lewis.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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