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Echoes of "Madame Bovary" in the American suburbs. Sarah's in a loveless marriage to an advertising executive, long days with her young daughter at the park and the pool, wanting more. Brad is an immature househusband, married to a flinty documentary filmmaker. Ronnie is just out of prison - two years for indecent exposure to a minor - living with his elderly mother, May; Larry is a retired cop, fixated on driving Ronnie away. Sarah and Brad connect, a respite of adult companionship at the pool. Ronnie and Larry have their demons. Brad should be studying for the bar; Larry misses his job; Ronnie's mom thinks he needs a girlfriend. Sarah longs to refuse to be trapped in an unhappy life. Where can these tangled paths lead? Written by
Relationship drama is on the menu and Todd Field is the waiter, with expert skill and neat presentation. 'Little Children' zooms in on suburbia, navigating the world of desperate housewives and husbands. The dish proves a pleasant diversion, with crisp performances and a tasty centre.
So tasty, in fact, that Little Children is one of the most interesting films of recent years. It is far from the greatest, and is not devoid of faults, but a genuine evocation of interest should be attributed to Field's story. Every character unflinchingly demands our attention. We want to know more about precisely everyone in the community. In the front row for fascination sits Ronnie, the resident child molestor, who pends between likable and freak. He is the overriding nominator for 'Little Children' and his presence greatly upsets the parents.
Yet most salience is given to Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson as Sarah and Pierce two lonely, bored and desperate housespouses who, in the midst of having nothing to do, innocently begin an extramarital affair with each other. Through calm narration, the film introduces Sarah as an anthropologist and remarks how she is different from the contingent of housemoms. However it becomes apparent that the director is the anthropologist and not Sarah. Indeed Field studies human relationships accordingly, interweaving loneliness, desperation, jealousy, lust and betrayal. Sarah, in fact, loses her 'objective' stance and melts in with the rest as she indulges in her passion with Brad.
It needs to be said that 'Little Children' often tips over into comedy and it is this refreshing edge that bumps it up to 8/10 on my scale. It treats serious subjects, such as pedophilia, infidelity and loneliness but it does so with the spark in the eye. A consistent cloud of laughter seemed to hover in the air of my theatre at the Stockholm Film Festival and Kate Winslet was undoubtedly the catalyst. She gives a fine performance with excellent emotional transparency, layered skill and above all with an inherent funny bone that translates to a goofy woman. The humour is surprisingly in-tune even with the other characters with all their quirks and afflictions, such as child-molestation and online pornography.
Toward the end, 'Little Children' patiently crafts a sense of impending doom that deserves much credit. Nevertheless, the ending isn't the best imaginable. The film could benefit from being slightly shorter. Lastly the use of cute kids as tearjerkers is a disappointing cheap-shot used a little too often, and seems mostly a tiresome American phenomenon. Yet as a whole entity Little Children is a very interesting film that makes the best possible use of characters, relationships and suburban drama. Throw in a few exceptionally neat steadicam shots Scorsese-style and the experience is complete.
8 out of 10
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