Little Children Review
By Joe Lozito
"Little Children" is almost everything director Todd Field's previous film - 2001's tragic masterpiece In the Bedroom
- is not. Adapted from the novel by Tom Perrotta, who co-wrote the film with Mr. Field, "Children" is another of those examinations of suburban decay which seem to be all the rage since the success of "American Beauty"
, but the film is populated with such self-obsessed, distasteful characters, it's hard to care how or why any of them finds happiness.
It's telling that the best scenes in the film involve a pedophile who moves into the small Massachusetts suburb. Ronald James McGorvey (a stunning performance by Jackie Earle Haley) is a sick man, made all the more tragic by his own recognition of, and helplessness against, his illness. During a heat wave, he causes an outrage in a public pool. "I was just trying to cool off!" he yells. But Mr. Haley's performance is such that the line is by no means definitive. The performance brings to mind Kevin Bacon's similarly-themed "The Woodsman" and it grounds the film in a way none of its other characters can.
The majority of the film concentrates on Sarah and Brad. Sarah (Kate Winslet) is married to Richard, an ill-defined nine-to-fiver with an internet porn obsession treated as a surreal joke. Sarah is a frustrated English major, unhappily playing the role of mother to poor attention-starved Lucy. During one of their daily trips to the playground, Sarah meets-cute with Brad (Patrick Wilson), a hunky stay-at-home Dad. Brad's wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly, coldly sexy) is supporting the family as a documentary filmmaker while Brad ostensibly studies for the bar exam (in actuality he likes to watch teenagers skateboarding). Eventually, and unsurprisingly, Brad and Sarah start an affair.
Ms. Winslet is a wonderful actress, but Sarah may not be the perfect role for her. Though the filmmakers attempt to make her "boy-ish", as Sarah is described, Ms. Winslet still shines. Further, she woefully outclasses the blandly attractive Mr. Wilson, and their relationship never feels like more than a fling. Some particularly egregious shots of Mr. Wilson emerging glistening from the pool only further embed the proceedings in soap opera suds. I suppose it's meant to be considered fearless that Ms. Winslet would play a woman so vehemently non-maternal. After a two-day clandestine vacation with Brad, Sarah comes home, showers and stares at herself in the mirror while young Lucy calls for her outside the bathroom. Lucy has a present that she made for her mom while she was gone. Sarah, though, needs a minute to herself. Apparently, two days of extramarital sex couldn't satisfy her self-absorption.
There's an omniscient male voice-over that pops up in all the wrong places to point out the obvious, sometimes even describing an action that the character just performed on screen ("Sarah turned", for example), but the less said about that the better. "Little Children" has some great performances and some of the ingredients of good melodrama, but it never forms into a cohesive whole, and the two-plus hour running time drags on far too long.
"Little Children" may get its title from one of two places: either the fact that all the adults behave like children, or that the children in the film are the only characters to care about. Regardless, these sons and daughters have some intense hours of therapy coming up. I, for one, would just like the two hours I spent watching this film returned.