Little Children (2006) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for strong sexuality, nudity, language, and some disturbing content
Running Time: 130 min.
Cast: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Noah Emmerich, Jackie Earle Haley, Phyllis Somerville, Sadie Goldstein, Ty Simpkins, Gregg Edelman, Jane Adams, Will Lyman (narrator)
Director: Todd Field
Screenplay: Todd Field, Tom Perrotta (based on the novel by Tom Perrotta)
Review published December 12, 2006
Tom Perrotta's novel of suburban angst comes to life in his own adapted screenplay, which isn't about little children so much as big children trapped in adult lives who want so desperately to relive the freedom and impulsive desires they experienced when they were youths. Sarah (Winslet, Finding Neverland) is the unhappy mother with a rebellious four-year-old daughter who doesn't quite fit in with the normal soccer moms at the local park. One day, she's introduced to the handsome stay-at-home dad of the park, Brad (Wilson, Running with Scissors), and in the short conversation she has, the two form a connection which soon develops into an infatuation for both of them. Brad is married to a knockout of a wife, Kathy (Connelly, Dark Water), who has been urging him to pass the bar exam, but he hasn't even cracked open a book, spending most of his evenings watching the younger kids at a local skate park. Meanwhile, turmoil breeds in the neighborhood when a convicted sex offender, Ronald (Haley, Breaking Away), moves in, upsetting the local parents and testing the fabric of the community with his refusal to live in a sheltered existence.
A finely-tuned, pessimistic drama about the idyllic family existence is unraveled in a thought-provoking fashion, captured with consummate finesse by In the Bedroom's writer-director Todd Field, who once again peels away the surface of the perfect community to find imperfection, insecurities, envy, and anguish. From the handsome couple, to the smart ones, to the ones trying to live the most proper, all of them have something stale going on in their lives that is making them very unhappy, trapped in the daily existence that is sometimes generated for adults who are pinned down with young children, high expectations, and the derisive nature of community gossip. No matter how perfect we all seem to others from the outside, inside is a gnawing hunger for something different, even if that something different isn't necessarily something better.
With strong performances by a very intriguing cast, particularly by Kate Winslet, Little Children manages to overcome the obstacles of the artificiality of the characters and situations to deliver ultimate truths about the human condition, particularly in the lives of people who normally wouldn't make for interesting study. In many ways, it hearkens back to American Beauty in its unraveling of the traditional suburban ideal, although it does suffer a bit due to the heavy comparisons one might consciously draw between the two films. However, Field's film is its own beast in the end -- an intelligent and contemplative drama that merits discussion, even about the things that make little sense to include, and yet, the story is so self-conscious, there must be some reason that all f these lives are meant to intersect in their awkward ways.
Little Children isn't perfect, but its roughest of edges makes it all the more interesting. Even if the characters don't always seem anything more than puppets at the hands of a storyteller, the bits of human insight underneath provides more than enough food for thought than most films of this ilk allow, and even some moments of bittersweet, and even comical, irony. It isn't satisfying so much as challenging, and while it certainly won't be to everyone's liking, as it does deal with such unsavory subjects as infidelity and pedophilia, it really isn't about those things as much as it is about the innocence, freedom, and impulsive acts we all seem to lose as the days of our youth becomes more distant in our memories.
Adulthood is filled with yearnings for things we can never have, or things we can't have again, and even if we can sample a taste of it, the reality that is our actual existence always threatens to take away the illusion of youthful freedom. We long to escape, and yet, in the end, we know as adults that there are consequences to all impulsive desires acted upon, and we have to live with the aftermath of our actions. It is, after all, what makes us adults, and no longer the little children we wish we could sometimes be.
©2006 Vince Leo