Little Children (2007) Review

Little Children (2007) Review
Little Children (2007) Review 1
Little Children (2007)
Director(s): Todd Field
Actor(s): Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly, Patrick Wilson
Running Time: 137 min
| February 9, 2007

Why would you ever want to live in suburbia? According to the movies, the ‘burbs are festering cesspools where the so-called normals are more freaky than the actual freaks. I used to live in a typical suburban centre and I have to tell you, you do not want to be the guy that stands out. And if you have any artistic or culture leanings than I hope the local Blockbuster, the public library and a three-screen theatre is enough to suit your fancy. But enough ‘burbs bashing, that’s not what we’re here for. I’m going to talk about Todd Field’s new film Little Children, his sophomore effort and follow-up to his Academy Award-nominated In the Bedroom.

We meet Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) as she sits apart from all the other stay-at-home moms that bring their kids to the local park on a daily basis. It’s automatically apparent that Sarah is the “fifth dentist” of these housewives as she’s neither pathological about organization, nor obsessed with neighbourhood gossip, as the others are. Another frequent flyer at the playground is Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson) a stay-at-home dad that the other women know nothing about except to call him glowingly, “The Prom King”. Sarah comes to know Brad and learns that he’s married to a filmmaker (Jennifer Connelly) and is studying to take the bar exam for the third and final time. Brad, however, has no more interest in studying for the Bar than a fly in the air, and would much rather admire the athleticism of the local skateboarders.

There’s a subplot about a recently paroled sex offender named Ronnie McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley) who’s moved back home after doing time in jail for exposing himself. The neighbourhood is positively rancid with worry about the viper in their midst, while Ronnie’s mother (Phyllis Somerville) encourages him to get out and meet women so that he won’t be alone when she dies. Ronnie, though, is well-known to everyone in the general vicinity and he’s constantly being harassed by an ex-cop named Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich) who’s seemingly the sole member of a Neighbourhood Watch and whose guilt over a bad shooting is driving him to obsession.

All these forces collide in the pressure cooker of this suburban jungle where appearance is everything and you must suffer in silence because you feel like an island in the middle of the ocean. All these characters have their pain but none of them talk about it for whatever reason. Revelations sort of come in waves, there are certain scenes where a character’s coping device is suddenly lost and they don’t know what to do. I don’t want to get too much into this because it would necessitate revealing certain plot twists, but it’s reinforced at the end that these people isolate themselves from each other and they quietly realize that it’s because they’ve refused to accept change.

I think where Little Children fails is in the way it makes the motivations of many of the characters mirky in ways that make you wonder what they’re thinking. I’m not sure what motivates either Sarah or Brad to engage in their adulterous affair. In fact, it almost seems a little immature. The whole thing plays a little close to the absurd and the characters are a little bit too stereotypical at times. The actual performances, though, are a saving grace, especially Oscar-nominee Haley, who makes Ronnie a very sympathetic figure that you pity as much as revile. It’s too bad that the acting couldn’t speak for itself, as Field uses a bizarre, and slightly annoying, narration that makes the film sound like a sociology documentary.

Deeper than the average melodrama and more pointed than the usual plebiscite against life in suburbia, Todd Field demonstrates a natural ability to invest you in a story in Little Children that may just as well be happening right down road from you.

Final Thoughts
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