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Worth A Look43.24%
Average: 8.11%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 5.41%

4 reviews, 13 user ratings

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Little Children
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by Erik Childress

"HANDS OFF! Unless You're Referring To Kate Winslet"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Todd Field’s adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel is going to draw immediate and possibly shortsighted comparisons to both American Beauty and TV’s Desperate Housewives. Those a bit more familiar with the only cinematic groundbreakers of Field’s filmmaking and Perrotta’s words (In the Bedroom and Election) will find more in common in this tale of satirical suburbanites than the Wisteria Lane of Whores. But within the only somewhat complex tale of bored spouses and sex offenders trying to capture or recapture the innocence of youth, there lies that overt familiarity and a voiceover which reveals that the actual novel may be the best way to experience this story.

Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) has settled out of her days as an English major into motherhood amongst the barrage of suburban stay-at-home moms who set play dates and snack times for their children at the local playground. Her child is a bit of a terror, refusing to sit in car seats and throwing spoiled tantrums, while Sarah has to listen to the condescending remarks of the ignorant know-it-all mom who seems to have scheduled every moment of her life. The contentness of Sarah’s trio of motherly companions is briefly glossed over thanks to the reappearance of Brad (Patrick Wilson). Married to Kathy, a “knock-out” PBS documentarian (a counter-fantasy for us guys played by Jennifer Connelly), Brad plays Mr. Mom to their son and has been branded “The Prom King” by the women who have never spoken to him.

On a dare Sarah strikes up a conversation with Brad and, in a moment of playing to their crowd, share a hug and a kiss which freak out their viewers but reveals something greater about their longing for a time filled with less responsibility. Kathy is income-conscious being the sole bread-winner of the home while Brad prepares to take the bar exam (for a third time.) Sarah is shocked to discover that her own husband has livened up his sex life thanks to the Slutty Kay website, providing the last straw (or smelly kleenex) for Sarah to seek out a friendship (and possibly more) with Brad at the local pool. Rounding out and clouding the neighborhood is the return of Ronald James McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley), whose full name should clue you in to a criminal record that involves indecent exposure to a minor – and Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich), an old acquaintance of Brad’s, has now taken up his own committee on exposing this pervert to the community he once swore to protect and serve.

Suburban marital boredom has provided enough material for years of soap operas and lurid romantic novellas. But Field and Perrotta don’t embrace their behavior as the righteous solution to a common angst. As thematically suggested by the title, this is a story that cuts through lost youth, actual youth and youth suspended through psychosexual disorders that mentally draw such people to their own kind. The only grown-up of the piece appears to be Ronald’s mother (Phyllis Somerville) who nevertheless through society would be looked upon as a failure to raise her child as the good boy she still sees through her eyes. Her house decorated with child figurines may not have helped her son’s fixation, but her shielding of him is no different than the sometimes overly protective manner that parents facilitate a false sense of reality for their offspring.

Kathy treats her own husband like a child, denying him both necessities and pleasures from their wallet and their bed until he does his homework. Brad seeks solace through reliving his football years at night and in Sarah who doesn’t have to obsess over finances and can just applaud his efforts to do whatever he wants. (Notice who moves in first on both the kiss and in the laundry room.) Meanwhile Sarah, who probably never thought herself a mother and wife in her college days, either by means to justify her actions or a true evolution of her subsistence, has gone from finding Madame Bovary a text full of misogynistic overtones to a brave feminist story of one woman’s hunger to escape a life of servitude to a communal standard. Agree or disagree, but the same can be said about a film where a man-child’s struggle in life is to choose between sex with Jennifer Connelly or Kate Winslet.

While Little Children has been made in skillful degrees by Field and is acted in exemplary tones by everyone involved, there are inescapable issues beyond the central choices made by its characters. Perrotta’s voice can be heard throughout the film’s narration (cleverly using PBS’ voice for Frontline, Will Lyman) and starts things off as if we’re listening to the ripe text from an audiobook. He disappears for long stretches after spelling out and punctuating key situations before almost being abandoned completely, much like Sarah’s husband who upon having his upstairs private time curtailed is seen leaving one morning in his car. Is it to work or for good? We don’t know until he shows up again at a key dinner scene at Brad and Kathy’s laughing and telling stories. Drifting our thoughts from book-to-screen is an uneasy transition that levels the final 15 minutes into precisely the kind of behavior that can work on the page but not when visualized. Sarah swinging her child in the direction that any person would avoid at all costs and waiting far longer under the circumstances she’s under is nearly as dense as Brad’s abrupt decision to continue a fascination that is in many ways creepier than any of Ronald’s depraved choices or whatever co-dependency Larry has with his new quarterback.

Little Children wants to be the kind of satirical melodrama that worked so well with American Beauty before people got sick of praising it. And many elements of it certainly work in both its subtle and unsubtle positions on its characters failings. I’ve seen the film twice now and remarkably had the same reaction to it both times, a mixture of amusement and dissatisfaction in the midst of sensing that the filmmakers wanted me to feel something more. To empathize with these characters while mocking them in unison is a tricky proposition just as it is to tell us how they are feeling at one point and then abandon their comical scruples in preference of our own guesstimates to why they eventually do what they do. Maybe Perrotta’s novel should be required reading before going into the film version; all the narration without the flaws of the interpretation. Nonetheless, I’m still wholeheartedly recommending Little Children in either format for its strong performances and an indispensable alternative to desperate housewives on TV and off.

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originally posted: 10/06/06 14:01:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2006 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/22/17 Louise (the real one) Superb - kept my attention throughout, with great performances. 4 stars
3/26/09 mariah almost perfect imo 4 stars
1/09/09 Anonymous. this isn't amateurish at all. don't listen to pat. :] 4 stars
9/28/08 s well acted if not overrated. read the book for a more full realization 3 stars
3/09/08 jbubbles A brilliant, heartbreaking, thoughtful and hyper-realistic film. 5 stars
2/13/08 Pat So amatuerish it's funny. Like an after school special w/ a narrator. 1 stars
9/30/07 MP Bartley Nothing new to say but it's better than American Beauty and Winslet is outstanding. 4 stars
5/25/07 Piz wow...saw it two days ago and still thinking about it. 5 stars
5/07/07 D Learn about suburban life from the people who really know what its like...Hollywood! 1 stars
2/20/07 Beau overrated a little. boring at the beginning but as the film developed so did the characters 3 stars
1/06/07 Jim The Movie Freak Supremely overrated. But Winslet is amazing as always 3 stars
12/29/06 Diane McCurdy ...great movie 5 stars
11/22/06 jdean62 EXCELLENT !!! OSCARS for several!!! Filmed in my sisters backyard as well in Staten Island 5 stars
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  06-Oct-2006 (R)
  DVD: 01-May-2007



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