I’ve had some questions lately about a term I use in movie reviews, “dumb weiner kids”, and why I use it to describe children in movies. It’s not because I hate kids—I’m just indifferent to them—it’s because there is a specific kind of kid that shows up in movies that serves no purpose except to force an audience reaction because kid. Recent examples of movies with dumb weiner kids include Southpaw, Jurassic World, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Hawkeye was retro-fitted with a family in order to provide him with a character, as he really didn’t have one up to that point. Since we need to care about what happens to Hawkeye in Ultron, Marvel and Joss Whedon threw some kids into his backstory in order to give him an identity and create emotional stakes for his character.
For narrative purposes, kids are the fastest and easiest way to engender sympathy for a character, and they also serve as convenient plot engines when no one has a better idea of how to advance the action. The dumb weiner kids in Jurassic World exist to be imperiled—the movie counts on the audience caring about what happens to them just because they’re kids and in danger—and are chucked into the jungle against all logic in order to force the other characters into action. Don’t know how to make Action Hero Man sympathetic? Have him save/protect a kid. Not sure how to raise the stakes of the action in act two? Dangle a kid off a precipice. Summer movies tend to be full of dumb weiner kids because they’re a cheap and easy shortcut to the kind of scripting problems people are too willing to gloss over in blockbusters (because no one expects blockbusters to be smart anyway, amirite?).
If you’re wondering if the kid in the movie you’re watching is a dumb weiner kid, ask yourself the following two questions: 1) Does the kid have a personality beyond “child”, and 2) if the kid’s storyline was shifted to an adult character, would the movie change substantially? If the answers are “no” and “no”, then that is a dumb weiner kid. For example, the daughter in Southpaw is actually superfluous to the narrative. The movie is the same if Billy Hope has to win back his wife instead of custody of his daughter. The only reason there’s a kid in Southpaw is because kids are more sympathetic and by giving him a daughter, Billy Hope is more palatable to audiences. It’s manipulation, not storytelling. I didn’t invent the term, but I prefer to use it to refer to narratively pointless children in movies. Dumb weiner kids.