The lives of two lovelorn spouses from separate marriages, a registered sex offender, and a disgraced ex-police officer intersect as they struggle to resist their vulnerabilities and temptations in suburban Massachusetts.
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
The acclaimed director of "In the Bedroom" brings a brand new type of adulterous love tale. Todd Field co-adapts Tom Perrotta's novel and never leaves the source material unattended. The film is multi-layered with subtle undertones and illustrious questions wrapped into a parable of two people Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson) and Sarah Pierce, (Kate Winslet) individuals that feel so disenchanted with existence that they find "comfort" in one another. Brad is married to Kathy, (Jennifer Connelly) a beautiful Documentary film maker that pushes her husband to pass the Bar Exam that he's successfully failed twice. She sends him on nightly trips to the library to study where Brad often gets sidetracked into watching a couple of young skaters, skate around. Sarah is working on her dissertation and retires to the playground everyday with her daughter Lucy, to reminisce with the women of the neighborhood. Sarah is married to Richard, an awkward man with underlying motives and fantasies. Although his vanishing in the film is as awkward as he is.
Upon talking about raising children and busy schedules, the women of the neighborhood are delighted with the return of Brad a.k.a. "The Prom King," who indulges their erotic fantasies. The attraction between Sarah and Brad isn't as obvious from the beginning but a small bet will change that. The two acquire at first, a friendship in the interest of simple companionship, a get away from their spouses, where they could feel support. After the sexual tension is ignited, it remains there through trips to the park, pool and Sarah's infamous laundry room.
Todd Field's brutal honesty of adulthood in Suburbia is strikingly palpable and he never leaves the mind of the characters. Unfortunately Field and Perrotta often bring many questions about morality and judgment to the table and leave the subjects murky. The adaptation is great but there are so many points and features to make in this narrative, the two writers couldn't tackle each task. The dialogue is always engaging and inviting for the viewer; I always felt the need to listen to every word.
The performances for the most part are remarkable. Patrick Wilson's "Brad" is extremely character-flawed. His immaturity is evident in every scene and Wilson does an impressive job of portraying that. Brad is stuck in a world, a world somewhere in between high school graduation and yesterday's pasta dinner. His identity seeking is never exposed until the meeting of Sarah and his immaturity is never more manifested until the finale. The underdeveloped character of Kathy is sometimes bothersome but with the flow of the story it fits the aura of the picture. Jennifer Connelly does well with her minimal screen time but it isn't the marvel of the film that stands out like other low-screen time performances have been in the past. Also, the great Noah Emmerich and Phyllis Somerville are great in their respective roles.
The two standouts lay in the unknown comeback of Jackie Earle Haley, who plays Ronald McGovern, a recently released pedophile searching for a new beginning in a town unkind to the power of forgiveness and profound origination. In Haley, the viewer finds the most sympathy of all the players and this viewer was delighted to find it. In no way are people accepting of pedophilia, but we can start to sympathize with anyone who yearns for the restart of any kind and becomes bewildered and astray in the process. Haley's "Ronnie" is so tortured in his soul but does find security and contentment in his loving mother. She offers solace and guidance in Ronnie's rebuilding of life that adds to the atmosphere and provides a beautiful emotional center to the "Children." The other standout could be no other than the most talented young actress working today, Kate Winslet. Her "Sarah," like "Ronnie" has a tortured persona along with a yearn for happiness that is missing in her life. The symbolism of trains in the film gave amazing insight to what Sarah and Brad were really about. Winslet falls inside of "Sarah" and never comes to the surface. At 31, Winslet is still thinking of different ways to enchant the audience and give us something new every time. The vivacity of "Sarah" is sometimes hard to swallow because of her priorities with her child and Brad but in the finale you will feel comfort in the choice of her character. But this is not by any means, the best performance of her career but a definite contender nonetheless in the competitive Actress race.
The best part of the film is the complete wrapping of it in general. Despite the many questions left unanswered, I have never felt so satisfied with the resolution of a dramatic picture like "Little Children." There is however, a coy hollowness at the center of the film but the rest makes up for seemingly unavoidable flaws that came about. Oscar consideration should focus on Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Adapted Screenplay and hopefully that can be in its future. This is a very artsy type movie, not for everyone, but if the Academy is feeling like nominating a "House of Sand and Fog" meets "In the Bedroom" with a subtle side of "Closer" then we'll have our dramatic independent film of the year in the Oscar race.
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