Birch joined the ranks of child film stars when she carried the family adventure "Monkey Trouble" (1994), holding her own opposite a rascally monkey and an irascible Harvey Keitel. She reprised her role as Ford's daughter in the sequel "Clear and Present Danger" (1994) before playing the wild girl who grows up to be Melanie Griffith in the coming-of-age film "Now and Then" (1995). She subsequently traveled to British Columbia to portray a teenager searching for her missing father in the adventure "Alaska" (1996). Hitting an awkward age, Birch more or less retreated from acting for a couple of years, although she kept her toe in with guest appearances on the CBS series "Touched By an Angel" and its spin-off "Promised Land." By 1999, though, with darker hair, she had resumed her career, gaining notice as Everyteen Clea in the thoughtful and sensitive "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation "Night Rider Home" (CBS), an examination of a family coping with grief. But it was her big-screen turn as the angst-ridden daughter of Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening in that year's Academy Award-winning Best Picture "American Beauty" that kicked her career to a new level. Appearing in a somewhat controversial topless scene (she turned 17 during the film's shoot), Birch created a memorable portrait of a disaffected teenage girl. She almost blew it with her follow-up choices, though. Neither her turn as a punk rocker who suggests who dares her older sister and two of her friends to play a game of Russian Roulette in the festival-screened, direct-to-video release "The Smokers" nor her work as the democratically-minded Empress Savina in the laughable "Dungeons and Dragons" (2000) pleased critics and viewers. On the other hand, both reviewers and audiences embraced Birch in her next role as Enid, the eccentric, somewhat negative, bespectacled teen hipster and aspiring artist struggling to find herself after high school graduation, in "Ghost World," the Terry Zwigoff-directed black comedy based on a graphic novel. That same year, British audiences watched her play an English girl who accompanies classmates into an abandoned WWII bunker from which only one will emerge in the mystery-thriller "The Hole."
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