April 1, 2011

Movie Memories: Dunston Checks In

In the last edition of Movie Memories, I teased an upcoming feature involving a very minor celebrity. And now that time has come. Get pumped.

It just so happened one day that I found myself watching Dunston Checks In, a kiddie flick detailing the escapades of a rascally orangutan and the patrons of a luxury hotel, with its star. Unfortunately I'm not referring to the monkey, but rather its child star, Eric Lloyd.

How did this come to pass?

I never went to a sleepaway camp in the traditional sense, but in the summer before my junior year of high school, I went to film camp. The knee-jerk reaction of comparing it to band camp upon first hearing the phrase is actually rather apt - it's a group of teenagers with raging hormones thrown together in a residential environment to hone a craft. It was a one-month program at Harvard where we produced several short films on 16mm, from soup to nuts. And man, it was a wild ride. I had crushes on at least four guys, at least four had crushes on me, and three of those ended up going somewhere (four if you count the guy who intermittently stalked me for years afterward). There were friends and enemies, heartbreak and rapture, celluloid and digital. I learned a lot about myself. And I learned who Eric Lloyd was.

Barely two hours after arriving at camp, buzz started to circulate that there was a celebrity in our midst. It wasn't immediately obvious, because the individual in question was known primarily as a child star, but it was soon revealed that our fellow camper was "the kid from the Santa Clause movies, y'know, the one who plays Tim Allen's son." He tried to downplay this fact in his introductions, but begrudgingly admitted that it was true. He said he was interested in being on the other side of the camera, however, and we mostly respected that and dropped the subject.

Until the last night, that is.

We were all high off the accomplishment of finishing our final projects, which we had screened earlier that day. In the final week, someone figured out that our dorm building had a "secret" basement with a huge TV and foosball table that no one had bothered to tell us about. Despite the fact that over the course of the session, the campers had sort of split into two factions (myself being one of the few people who could claim membership in both), we all came together on this joyful night. While debating how to celebrate, someone suggested that we watch Dunston Checks In. This would have been a very strange suggestion indeed, if not for the fact that we would have the unique opportunity of watching it with its star, seven years after its release. Everyone jumped at the idea - except Eric, naturally. I have to say, however, that he proved to be a tremendously good sport about the entire affair. He was actually a really nice guy, and seemed immune to the cool kid repellent I seem to have mixed into my bloodstream.

I'm not even sure why this movie was so readily available (perhaps someone had rented it just in case?), but someone got it and popped it in. Eric was planted front and center on the couch, so everyone could watch him squirm. Watching embarassing home movies is hard enough - imagine if your childhood antics and awkwardness were preserved as major theatrical releases? He really took it in stride, though. Whenever we glanced at him after a particularly groan-inducing bit, he just gave a shrug and a chuckle. We really weren't trying to humiliate him - it was more for the trippy experience of watching the screen, then turning around and seeing the same person seven years older. (Cries of "he's on the screen! he's right here!" punctuated the first third or so of the movie). He even provided behind-the-scenes commentary - we learned, for example, that costar Jason Alexander is a trained masseuse and offered massages on set. (Seinfeld fans, insert "it moved" joke here.)

So there we were, a bunch of cinema-loving teens, watching an unapologetically bad kids' movie on our last night together. Yet instead of the snarky irony that usually accompanies such occasions, the mood here was strangely warm and affectionate, possibly because we would all be parting ways the next day. It's possible that I'm just remembering it incorrectly, but it remains in my memory as a happy ending to a crazy month.


Unknown said...

that's a great story

mfan said...

I was a fan of Eric Lloyd when I was a kid, mostly because of Dunston Checks In and The Santa Claus. You should watch Eric Lloyd in the movie Luminious Motion. His performance in that movie was so eerie, I can't think of him as "The kid from The Santa Claus" anymore lol.