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Out of all the "Oscar Bait" films I've seen this year, this film beats
them all. Little Children is an unbelievable masterpiece about what it
means to grow up. This idea is brilliantly portrayed through characters
- while categorized as "adults" - have yet to outgrow certain
Brad is a man who never got the chance to experience the spotlight in his youth, and now he desperately craves attention, acknowledgment, or admiration in any form.
Sarah is a woman who never learned how to grow past her own selfishness. She is angry at her daughter for needing attention when all Sarah wants is some time to herself.
Larry is a man who still harbors bully-like tendencies, and desperately just wants to fit in and be one of the guys. This is seen through his treatment of Ronnie - the pedophile who was just released from prison and returned to the neighborhood.
Ronnie is the dangerous man. The man who cannot connect with people his own age and seeks sexual gratification with children or with people who - like him - cannot fit into the adult world.
This isn't an action moving - it's an interaction movie. The scenes between characters have you nailed to your seat and deeply invested. The characters interact within their small community, and their actions with each other build into a climatic explosion that forces them all to face truths about themselves, and - finally - accept their responsibilities as mothers, husbands, fathers, and humans. This accepting is what separates little children from adults, immature from mature.
The tale is moving, sad, hilarious, dark, breathtaking, thought-provoking and many other creative adjectives. It forces you to reevaluate your idea of yourself and your thoughts on others. It forces you to see people you would normally loath and dismiss in a differently light. This a movie you will come out of changed. If you only see one film a higher, I cannot recommend this one more.
Director Todd Field satirizes western society and exposes our
fundamental flaw as a society. We are a country of self-righteous
hypocrites who band together to crush evil wherever it may be found but
overlook our own weaknesses.
The story on one level is exceedingly banal: it shifts from scene to scene exposing the triviality of day to day life. Yet there is that haunting sound of an approaching train. Are we witnessing a train wreck? The brilliant use of a narrator lulls us into the belief that this is just a children's story and nothing bad will happen. Yet our eyes are glued to the screen as we await the crash.
Jackie Earle Haley as Ronnie exposes everything that is wrong with our modern world and everything that is right about character acting. He gives a stand out performance definitely worthy of Oscar consideration. The character represents an unknown evil in our community, one that must be sought out and destroyed. His character at times is sympathetic, even lovable and other other times hideous and menacing.
But who is more detestable? Is it Ronnie or is it those infinitely boring (but beautiful) adulterers, Sarah (Kate Winslet) or Brad (Patrick Wilson)? Is it up to us to judge? If we do, are we not being like the suburban community that is the metaphor for our society? In that way, Director Todd Fields includes us in the movie whether we know it or not. This is a wonderful (train) ride that will keep us talking for days. It is one of this year's great movies.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Can there be such a thing as a feel-good movie about marital infidelity
and suburban ennui? If so, then I believe this haunting, powerful and
superb new movie from Todd Field may be it.
A feel-good movie was not in the least what I was expecting from this, based on the trailers and on Field's prior film, the astringent and depressing "In the Bedroom." And it's not like I left the theatre feeling the need to break into song. But unlike other films about the stultifying atmosphere of suburban America, and the prisons so many people seem to make out of their domestic worlds, "Little Children" ends with a distinct feeling of hope and optimism. In other domestic dramas, the characters are frequently unlikable, and they appear to drift through their worlds allowing things to happen to them without taking any responsibility for themselves. In "Little Children," Field does not present us with a handful of caustic stereotypes, but rather with a cast of actors who create warm but flawed human beings. These characters don't drift through life. They have things they care about, and they want and feel that they deserve some of the small happinesses that all human beings have a right to. But they also screw up, make bad decisions, act irrationally. What saves them, and the movie, is that in the end they all wake up, realize they're chasing dreams, and decide to make something of the lives they have rather than the lives they think they want.
I thought this was a hopeful message, and one that carries with it a tremendous impact in this post-9/11 culture, when the safety nets on which we've built our existences have been ripped out from under us and we're left trying to make sense of a scary world. This film, in its closing moments, states outright that there's no time like now to begin taking control of our own worlds and making of them what we want. The best weapon we can wield against an uncertain future are our children, who can learn from our mistakes and make something new rather than simply repeat an endless cycle.
As for the acting.....Kate Winslet shines as Sarah, the suburban mom who doesn't fit in and embarks upon a reckless affair to fill a void in her days. Her performance is one of those small triumphs of acting, in which Winslet builds a living, breathing human being from the ground up through a series of subtle and thoughtful choices. Patrick Wilson, such a limp noodle in the screen version of "The Phantom of the Opera," is pitch perfect as Brad, the stud who attracts Sarah's eye. And the other actors take full advantage of their smaller roles: Jennifer Connelly as Brad's loving but distracted wife; Jackie Earle Haley as the film's most tragic figure, Noah Emmerich as an ex-cop who takes homeland security into his own hands; and Phyllis Somerville, who has a couple of beautifully heart-breaking moments as the mom of an outcast.
The screenplay is thematically elaborate. There's hardly an element of one character's storyline that doesn't find a parallel in the storyline of another. The theme of parenting is of course central, but beyond simply focusing on the responsibilities parents owe their children, the film goes deeper and examines how parents' behavior affects their children and the extent to which parents can change the world for good or bad through what they hand down to the children who inherit it.
A bracing, fantastic film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Todd Field's Little Children's screenplay was written in collaboration
with Tom Perrotta, on whose eponymous novel it's based. Perrotta wrote
Election's, Bad Haircut's, and Joe College's funny, ironic screenplays
before this. But though mildly satirical at times in its vision of
middle-class white infidelity, this second film (at last) from the
director of the powerful 2000 In the Bedroom, with its themes out of
Cheever or Updike, also moves toward the solemn and the shocking.
One big reason for that is a second plot about a just-released sex offender and a troubled ex-cop who turns into a self-appointed protector of public morality campaigning to drive the ex-prisoner out of town.
Brad (Patrick Wilson) is a househusband caring for his little boy while feebly preparing for his previously failed bar exams. He has a gorgeous but emasculating wife, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) who's a successful PBS-style documentary filmmaker. Sarah (Kate Winslet), with an MA in English, in charge of a recalcitrant little girl with whom she has little patience at times, has a well-off distant husband (Gregg Edelman) who's a pretentious adman who gets off on Web porn. Sarah and Brad meet in a park where moms take their kids, in East Wyndham, Massachusetts. They wind up kissing when they first meet, mainly to shock the other moms.
Brad and Sarah spend a lot of the summer minding their kids together at the municipal pool. This turns into a torrid affair with frequent sex at Sarah's husband's large house. They're attractive, and attracted, and their general dissatisfaction with their spouses and with where they are now heightens their need to throw themselves at each other with the utmost abandon.
Meanwhile Ronnie (former child actor Jackie Earle Haley, vividly remembered from Bad News Bears and Breaking Away and strong in a new way here) has come into town: he's the sex offender, a painfully self-aware one, and he lives with the one person who loves him, his aging mother Ruth (a convincing Phyllis Somerville), while the ex-cop, Larry (Noah Emmerich) wages his war as a one-man "committee." Larry and Brad have met and Larry persuades Brad, who already wastes time watching boys skateboarding when he's supposed to be boning up for the bar exam, to join a night touch football league team made up of cops and thus the infidelity and the sex offender elements are linked. But they would be anyway, because this is a small community. And one particularly hot day Ronnie comes to the municipal swimming pool and causes an outcry when he's spotted ogling young girls under water.
The other moms from the park, who were afraid of Brad and called him "the Prom King," are gently satirized by a voice-over narration spoken by Will Lyman, of Frontline on PBS, which sounds like a high school educational film. Perrotta is, after all, a comic writer. But more of that later.
The movie has a bright, intense, clear visual style, sometimes making use of extreme close-ups. Since the acting and directing are fine, this gives things a feeling of authority. It's also effective in underlining both the satirical and the sensual aspects of the story, and heightens the emotional effect when the narrative lines move toward crisis.
Brad's development (the novel-based voice-over tells us) may have been arrested by his mother's dying when he was in his early teens, and this explains why he watches the skateboarding boys with such longing: they're having the playtime that was stolen from him.
Another theme is that of Cheryl (Marsha Dietlein), Sarah's friend and neighbor who baby-sits with her daughter when she's having sex with Brad, speed-walks with her, and gets her into a book-discussion group leading to a pointed scene in which Madame Bovary is discussed and Sarah defends the adulterous heroine as someone who revolted in search of freedom. The older women nod approvingly, while one of the park moms doesn't get it at all.
Partly because it's hard to juggle all these elements from a 350-page novel, the ironic narrative voice disappears throughout the film's midsection.
At the end matters all come to a head, with Brad and Sarah, with Ronnie, and with his erstwhile nemesis, Larry, and a lot of tension is created through Hitchcockian cross-cutting between these climaxing threads.
Field has avoided the extreme finale of his first film -- this one shares such heavy concerns as families, infidelity, crime, and confronting death, but by contrast, this ending, though breathless and troubling, is ultimately sweet and marked by reconciliation and acceptance. One may wonder if underlying issues have really been resolved. The film feels somewhat overlong, but the nuanced characterizations and fine acting and the attractiveness of the central couple entertain and interest us mightily.
Perhaps the one weakness overall is a slight uncertainty of tone, which explains why some viewers are troubled by the voice-over (and also by its long disappearance midway). If situations are seen primarily as highly serious or even horrifying, it's hard to see how the satirical feel fits in, and at the end we seem to have lost touch with where we started out. Ultimately as with so many American stories on film, the writers seem to have tried to tackle too much material. Nothing wrong with that, but they haven't quite got the world-view to encompass it all. Technically though Field has achieved more polish and shown more confidence, even compared to his already admirable and powerful first film of five years ago. The cast is wonderful, well chosen and well used. Field is an experienced actor: he knows the craft. This has got to be a film to think about at year's end when best lists are made up.
Just remarkable, because it goes in split second from laughter to deep
tragic shock without affecting the credibility of the story, back and
Every actor has been brilliantly directed and it is a gallery of portrays, not just two actors leading the story. I found myself so affected by it because of the sheer unpredictable storyline going to predictable then going back to the unknown.
You will watch how people whirl themselves into their own actions and then try to find a way out of these consequences. Then they free themselves at times, to trap themselves next. Absolutely brilliant, with an array of emotions succeeding to one another.
Visually sumptuous. People stayed in the theater and talked about it.
Looking back, you feel afterward how much love and dedication from director, crew and actors went into it. Just a stunning, beautiful movie.
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
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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bedrooms still play an important part in Todd Field universe but this time there is an outing, intellectual and emotional, that overwhelms in the apparent patina of familiarity. "Little Children" sizzles with an uncomfortable sense of impending doom. Kate Winslet, through her later day Madame Bovary, gives us a character that is recognisable and never seen before at the same time. Powerfully honest to the point of self destruction and yet, her feelings seem so clear and pure, so innocent. Kate Winslet in a superlative performance, invites us to believe that a human being can inhabit that contradiction without seem absurd. Patrick Wilson's courage without brains or vice versa is an uncomfortable pleasure to watch. Jennifer Connelly has one of the most chilling domestic moments I've seen in a long time: a moment of realisation at a dinner table. Contradictions, perhaps, are at the centre of this wonderfully conceived universe, Weary of domestic bliss. compassion for a child molester. Jack Earle Haley's psycho is not played for sympathy - he is a horrible character. He and his mother, the great Phyllis Somerville - are a realistic version of a Hitchcockian coupling. Adult entertainment, yes entertainment too, of the first order.
I had the pleasure of seeing the premiere of "Little Children" at
Telluride. The incomprable Mr.Feild hid behind the curtain near the
concession at the back of the Nugget Theater wringing his hands,
looking a wee bit nauseous. It was all very endearing. The film is
superb. Amongst the American fare it tops my list of films
fromTelluride, next to the incomprable 'Day Night Day Night' directed
by Julia Loktev.
For me, it was all about Jackie Earle Haley. Haley sneaks onto the screen 45 minutes into the narrative bursting the happy bubble of familiar ups and downs of married with children life. The result unnerving edgy tension that could be cut with a knife. Haley's performance is vulnerable, awkward and possibly the strongest male role to light up the screen this year. Haley deserves accolades, praise and loads of attention. He's been a favorite darling of mine for ages...something I had the good fortune of recounting to Feild after the screening.
Feild provides many questions and very few answers. Haley's character may have been released from jail for indecent exposure to a minor, yet Feild does a delicate balancing act without faltering on the side of "good guy/ bad guy". This is NOT a film about pedophiles. This is a film about faults, judgments, weaknesses that consume, chew one up and spits you out again. And in the end the entire paradigm of suburban life has been twisted, shaken, pushed and pulled.
There is tragedy, openness, shifts, that do not add up to ultimate conclusions. This complex tale weaves passion, disillusionment, love, lust, desire, ambivalence. But most importantly, the tender web of Mother-Child relations, WITHOUT ever vilifying Mother. Feild breaks from this poisonous, obsessive, castrating, oedipal mother-subject paradigm and addresses the people who float in and out of crisis above and beyond being tied to their social roles and traditional moral codes.
Winslet encapsulates the awkward intellectual mom, who loves her daughter, but has very very human ambivalence towards this 24/7 duty of unconditional love/acceptance and never ending giving. Finally, she decides to give something back to herself, by playing out a torrid love affair with the Prom King (Patrick Wilson) another character ripe with flaws and exudes humanness.
This should win many many many accolades for 2006, it's a rare stand out. A powerful disturbingly familiar tale played out eloquently, and held at benign distance via the brilliant use of odd narration. It's a strange convention, but Feild masters this as he skewers and satirizes and describes it's subjects with authority. The narration was pleasantly reminiscent of "Fishing with John", often obvious, but nicely pushing the plot along with often more than a hint of humor. The serious tone of the narrator serves to punctuate the utter ridiculous paradox of the banalities of being 'married with children' and having a flashy adventurous love affair in and around the locations of everyday stay at home summer existence; the park, the pool, the evening football game.
The Affair never reveals itself as the be-all-and-end-all, answer to disillusionment and sadness of suburban middle class marriage. Nor, the cause-effect that sets the plot in motion. Even more satisfyingly, the affair does not legitimate the happy normative narrative ending.
I was walking home the other evening having just watched this at the
theatre. Two guys were ahead of me on the street and had just seen it
as well. Not intending to listen in on their conversation ... I did
anyway, *LOL*. One asked his friend what he thought about the movie and
the second took a moment to think about it. His answer? "Twisted man,
too twisted!" Thoreau wrote in Walden that "the mass of men lead lives
of quiet desperation." In 'Little Children,' we see that quiet
desperation played out to full effect by desperate housewives, ex-cons
and damaged loners. A deep study of loneliness, 'Little Children' is
morally ambiguous and doesn't judge. It uses humour, it uses dread, and
it is a film that is at times quirky, intelligent and ultimately
I liked a lot of things about this movie and in the week since I saw it, I've grown to like it more. Thematically it should have been a terrible downer: a collection of people who've all settled into what seems like the beginning of the end. They've married, started having kids and every single one of them wakes up in the morning with dread. "Is this all that is left?" They have become, or more importantly, believe that they have become completely purposeless in the next of a continuing doldrum of empty days. Eternity awaits and eternity is purposeless existential hell.
What is remarkable about a film whose subject should be so bleak, is the warmth and humour within it. Characters in 'Little Children' reject the lack of purpose, the unhappiness and try to re-inject a passion for life that they once had. At its most extreme, the quest for passion and purpose is lead by Noah Emmerich -- certainly most of the humour comes from his character. Winslet, Wilson and Emmerich are all flawed (who isn't?) but sympathetic. And then there is Jackie Earle Haley.
How difficult must it have been to play a convicted sex offender who is both repellent and *gasp* sympathetic? If you're Jackie Earle Haley and you are stealing a film away from bigger stars and you've got a great part, then apparently it isn't very hard at all. Creepy, potentially dangerous but also fairly benign and pitiable, Haley gives a much over-looked performance in what is quickly becoming a much over-looked film. He has given what I think is one of the best performances this year, and what is certainly the best performance of his entire career.
'Little Children' is "twisted man, too twisted" but it is also very good and very compelling. Well worth the risk and extremely well paced. It was only after the film had ended that I noticed how long the film was. Completely engrossing, I recommend it highly.
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