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Little Children (2006)
This is such a stunning interweaving of significant every day problems among a half dozen characters, you can watch it more than once. Even though you know what's going to happen the second time. I'm on my third viewing, and Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson make such unlikely, perfect chemistry as ordinary suburban parents I'm on their side every time.
The problem is they are married to other people, not each other. And there is a child molester in town. And the media-fed fears of average people in very nice houses on quiet streets. It's the most common of settings, and if the stereotypes that get set up seem extreme, you'll see that that's part of the style, and that what you think might happen doesn't quite, never quite.
The path of the child molester is not followed for most of the film, and eventually becomes equal to the other main plot, the relationship between two lonely people. By the end you see small victories by every character amidst disasters. It's not a feel good movie, but you'll feel good by the closing scenes.
I went to a screening of Little Children two years ago where the author of the book, Tom Perrotta (who also co-wrote and screenplay and won an Oscar for his efforts). He pointed out how fascinating the whole process was, as a novelist, seeing the machinery of the industry take his story and run with it. And he said the final sensational event with the child molester wasn't in the book. It wasn't clear he liked the change, but he also had shrugged his shoulders long before about having much power to change it. Or that's how I remember it.
Anyway, this is a sleeper classic, very well made, well shot, beautifully paced, rarely drawn out. It is sometimes stylized in a diversionary way--the football game in particular--but I took this as a time to rest from all the more subtle melodrama going on elsewhere. The exaggerated patter and comic reactions of the three women who open the movie was offputting a little for me, because it made it seem it was all a little silly and even poorly written. But you come to see this also as an intended affectation, balancing against the very high realism and dramatic truths of the best parts of the movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Life in suburbia, since Ira Levin's THE STEPFORD WIVES, has been torn
apart at the seams and hung to dry. It's no secret that within every
happy home (that is more than likely to be overvalued into the seven
digits, depending on the city and neighborhood where you live in) there
will be some drama being played out, whether it's acknowledged or not.
Long Island. The name alone evokes this kind of environment that veers towards complacency. It's where the days are long, lazy, where housewives take their babies to the parks to converge in snippets of small talk meant to prove to each other not that they're friends, but how better off one is over the other, where there might be a child molester in the midst.
The molester in question is Ronnie McGorvey, played by Jackie Earl Healey who looks unsettlingly like Nosferatu and harbors an inner monstrosity that only once peeks out and scares the crap out of a potential, yet dull date his mother has picked out for him because after all, his mother still thinks he needs a wife and why not set him on a date? No one, of course, wants anything to do with Ronnie. One in particular, an ex-cop with a dark past named Larry (Noah Emmerich), makes an obsessive issue to stalk Ronnie and denounce him to the entire neighborhood because he believes it's his duty to protect it against the ills of a sex-offender. The town doesn't really react to it, until Larry goes too far one night.
Sarah Pierce is one of the town's residents, a housewife living in sheer boredom while her husband festers in Internet porn. On a lark, she steps out of the safe haven of her "female friends", walks up to the young man they've dubbed the Prom King who later introduces himself as Brad Adamson, married to a working wife while he's a stay-at-home dad (although he has plans on returning to law, once he passes the bar, of course). Her introduction is bad enough, but when she kisses him to provoke her friends, she sets them off to a point where they ostracize her, and this converges during a heated discussion on the sexual politics of Flaubert's "Madame Bovary". See, she and Brad have, from that first meet, converged again and again in the most mundane of ways, and stepped over the line, become clandestine lovers.
Todd Field's movie is elliptical. An ensemble of characters popping in and out despite focusing more attention on the characters of Sarah and Brad, it's one of the more in-depth studies of human behavior and their foibles in a gated community. These type of stories are usually rife with situations ready to be explored and while at times, the plot seems a little filled out for the purpose of presenting quirks, passions and dangerous people converge in ways that are completely believable -- don't forget, among these characters, there is a sex-offender, possibly even murderous. This is a movie that doesn't side-step its themes, and a scene where Ronnie swims, shark-like, in a pool filled with children, is truly creepy, and even more so how his character ends. LITTLE CHILDREN is a textured movie that features nuanced performances by its cast -- notably Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson who play well with each other (and look breathtaking in their nude scenes). It's best in its little scenes, especially one dinner scene late in the film where Jennifer Connelly discovers in the most off-hand of ways that her husband has been carrying on with Sarah and how she reacts to this sudden knowledge. The greatest thing about LITTLE CHILDREN is that it doesn't turn all this drama into soap: people realize that they're caught in a predicament, but don't create over-the-top scenes; instead, they react in unpredictable ways, sometimes even with compassion. It's the type of story that doesn't reduce its players to simply plot movers but actual people -- you could be witnessing the documentary of a suburb. That's good storytelling.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Little Children" is quite simply put, brilliant. It helps that the source material is top-notch but "Little children" has a cracker of a script! While Kate Winslet, as usual, turns in a fine performance as an embittered housewife it is Jackie Earl Haley who puts in a tour de force. He practically chews up the scenery when he's on screen. I can't remember where I've seen him before, but it was a long time ago. Kudos to whoever cast him in this role. The story is a simple one and one can imagine this making a good play as the locations are simple and few. While other films make a big show about "cinematography" and special effects, "Little Children" simply gets on with what's important. Storyline. Dialogue. Acting. I can't imagine why "Little Children" was overlooked at this years Oscar. In my opinion, it stands its own against "The Departed" et al. Update: Having seen the exalted "Little Miss Sunshine" with Supporting Actor Winner Alan Arkin, all I can say is, Jackie Earl Haley was robbed!!!! What a travesty of justice!!!
My friends advised me against watching 'Little Children' as they found
it very boring. Having liked Todd Field's previous film 'In The
Bedroom' and knowing that it had Kate Winslet and Jennifer Connelly
(whose works I very much admire alongside their beauty), I decided to
watch it anyway. The poster was a put-off as the tagline stated: Twin
Peaks meets Desperate Housewives. I hate such taglines where the movie
concerned is being compared to other films, TV series or whatever. On
top of that, I am no fan of 'Desperate Housewives'. However I found the
trailer appealing as it gave the impression that it was a dark film
about a married couple (Connelly and Wilson) and the other woman
(Winslet), it appealed to me. Only later I will find out that I've been
Sadly, 'Little Children' is not as great as I had expected. The idea of juggling too stories did not seem fitting and on top of that the film drags a lot. On one side there's a story about a married couple, in which the husband has an affair with a married woman. On the other side there's a story about a 'child molester' who has just moved in with his mother to an unwelcoming neighborhood and to make things worse, he is constantly harassed by an ex-copper. Both stories are interesting but would have faired better in two films rather than being squeezed as one. In addition to that, the ending of the first story does not convince. It seemed a little too abrupt, as if the director was in a hurry to wrap it up. It looks as though the writers tried to tackle too many ideas. The voice-over seems pointless. Some editing would have stopped the film from dragging.
On the brighter side, I found the visuals very impressive. The frames are quite well done and the cinematography is superb. The sound adds to the feeling of loneliness and the soundtrack and background score is beautiful. Overall, the film does look polished. It does achieve the satirical feel but somehow loses it.
And, of course, what would 'Little Children' be without the solid performances? Kate Winslet is electrifying as Sarah Pierce. Patrick Wilson is quite alright. Sadly, Jennifer Connelly has little to do but just in that one scene at the dinner table (with Sarah and Brad) she proves again what an excellent actress she is. Jackie Earle Haley too stands out in a difficult role while Noah Emmerich is loud at times but okay otherwise. Phyllis Somerville shines.
While I noticed that many people felt that 'Little Children' was vulgar because of the sex scenes. I thought the scenes were quite sensual and contributed well to the film. I do not understand why people have a problem with the character Ronnie being someone you can sympathize with rather than hate. I liked that the character was portrayed as a flawed human who knows that he has a problem rather than some kind of a monster. There are a few disturbing sequences which can irritate some people.
To sum it up, 'Little Children' is like two films in one...where it would have been better as two. At times it appears to be pretentious and the lethargic pace does not help. However, it has its moments, great performances, a dazzling soundtrack, fine camera-work and makes its point (even though it could have done that more effectively).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Little Children is one of the freshest, most original productions I've seen in a while. It's a light film about adultery, and you care about everyone in the end . . . including the pedophile. In addition to the screenplay, the things that make this film are the narration - which comes across as if it's addressing children, the cinematography - which is mostly ambient light with lush shadows and highlights, and the performances of the entire cast all of which are flawless. There are a few shockers and more than a few laughs. It's a solid film that caries you through the spectrum of emotions and remains fresh after subsequent viewings.
This is a most excellent movie, and really, really worth your time to
seek it out and see it. I went because of Kate Winslet and Jennifer
Connelly. I've liked everything they've been in, and they are two
actors of the highest calibre. As an extra, I was delighted and pleased
all around by this magnificent indie movie.
The topic sounds a little heavy, and I would have hesitated if I'd known all the surface details beforehand. But the richness, and the lush, comfortable intimacy of the characterizations, and the 'truth', if I may use that word, of the lives and the story were so perfect, I actually found the overall experience extremely positive and entertaining.
Briefly, this movie is about four families--- all of them a bit dysfunctional, and having a bit of problem. Jennifer Connelly plays a mom obsessed with her 3 or 4 year old son, thereby ignoring her husband's needs for sex and intimacy with his wife. She sleeps with the boy, and lays in bed with him like he's her 'man'. Nothing outwardly unwholesome is implied by that, but it does show what is probably, at the end of the day, an unhealthy attachment to the little guy. Her husband, played by actor Patrick Wilson, is athletic, robust, and plainly frustrated by his wife's emotional and physical absence.
He isn't looking to cheat, but he nonetheless falls into temptation in the 'accidental' person of Kate Winslet. She, too, has an emotionally distant spouse--- hers, though, is an uptight businessman, and closet internet porn addict. She isn't looking to cheat, either, but her feeling of being unaccepted, 'unknown' and unappreciated have driven her to extreme loneliness. She is an outcast to her fellow neighbourhood moms at the kiddie park, for example. These feelings of being an outsider, place her in an initially innocent situation that leads to an affair with the Patrick Wilson character, Jennifer Connelly's hubby.
The third 'family' is an ex-cop. We aren't told, at first, why he is not an active duty policeman anymore. I won't say here, but as the story unfolds, and we get deeper and deeper into the secret inner selves of the characters, it is revealed as a key point. All we know of his wife is that she left him, and he, for a bunch of reasons, is a very unhappy person. The fourth family is a weird and creepy sexual offender and his elderly mother.
The first exposure, no pun intended, to the sexual offender is him as a pervert recently released from a two-year prison term. He is the pariah and object of fear and hysteria of the entire community, stirred up, for the most part, by the ex-cop. The ex-cop pursues a personal vendetta against the guy, forming a vigilante committee, and plastering posters over virtually every surface that will take a staple or some duct tape. His cop buddies eye him with a bit of suspicion, and seem concerned with his obsession.
In the background of all this, the moms at the kids' park are obsessed with 'proper' behaviour', following their own set of rules, and looking good, as mothers are supposed to look. Etc.
Everyone in the movie is lonely and afraid, even if unconsciously. And the people surrounding the principle characters all seem obsessed with something. The principle characters--- Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson, are the only 'un-obsessed' folks in the movie. Their problem is the damage done by the obsessions of others. They suffer, because those people they depend on as their life partners are not available--- no emotional and spiritual interaction. They are lonely, and they somehow find each other, start an affair, and proceed from there.
This may sound kind of soap-opera-y. Oh well, it may be. But it is also very nice. I don't care for soap operas, but I was engrossed and entertained throughout this movie. If you can imagine it without plot details, the way things work out is not due to movie magic, or even luck--- but is an inevitable result of some courage, and some basic needs that force the characters to address them. A very human journey that most of us have to take in some form or another at times, and can relate to in some fashion.
I found the whole thing fascinating, and uplifting. You will note that I omitted the plot details beyond the set-up. The plot isn't critical, probably, but I will preserve the surprises for you to discover on your own. I loved this movie, and highly recommend that you take the time and make the effort to see it. Knowing the way movies are typically marketed to the public, this fine little gem will probably not survive for long at the multiplex. I gave it a well deserved 10 out of 10.
Script I think had more potential than how it was finally put together.
Narrator was horrid and could certainly have been reconsidered or
redone, less deadpan. He sounded like a male version of "Desperate
Housewives" but not really pulling it off. This film also pretended to
an insight it didn't really own and NONE of the characters were really
likable. The film also relied on urban relationship myths quiet
heavily, portraying them as gospel truth, and regularly founded flawed
and unevolved insight on them, which was the real problem with this
film. There are some highhanded hopes for in depth, truth revealing and
crushing of delusions indicated in the direction of the early script
but it's poor structure leaves the turning points under served,
basically orphans. All in all, a depressing look at a depressing
Know it is getting great reviews but did not like this film.
Maybe I'm a sucker for this kind of arena of drama, dealing with
adulteries and infidelities, or at least when then they're done with a
level of believability that doesn't cross into soap operas. But going
into Little Children, that's really all I expected to see. I got that,
but I also got more than I would've hoped for: Little Children is one
of the best examples in American movies of the dysfunctional suburban
complacency and need for escapism since American Beauty (if not,
perhaps, the most accomplished in dealing with fractured characters).
The 'little children' of the title include a married man, Brad, and a
married woman, Sara (not married to each other of course, played by
Patrick Wilson and Kate Winslet), an ex-cop turned 'community-action'
watchman (Noah Emmerich), and a sex offender/flasher (Jackie Earle
Haley). Their lives become undone by nothing except from themselves, or
each other, and never do the characters seem unrealistic or detached
via melodrama. Field has a real knack here- and continues it from his
breakthrough In the Bedroom- of cutting to the core of suburban
discontent in the characters, though this time it's showing through
(major) flaws and all, these are fully realized human beings who can't
be turned away as mere clichés.
The 'little children' of the story aren't the actual offspring of Winslet with her husband (a sometimes obsessor over wacky internet porno), and Wilson with his wife (Jennifer Connely, whom Brad describes after some prodding by Sara as a "knockout", even though he says beauty is "overrated"). They're the adults- supposedly- who meet at the local playground in the park, where the other women always gather with their kids, a part of life that leaves Sara always in a funk. Only when the "prom king", as he's dubbed, arrives is there some interest that perks up from the usual doldrums of suburban malaise. On a bet Sara goes over to talk to him, the only one of the women to do so, and when she tells him quietly that they call him the 'prom king', she shares a kiss and hug (the latter unintentionally). Soon neither one can stop thinking about the other, they become closer as they meet everyday at the local swimming pool with their kids, and when they escape from a storm into her home one day and he finds a poetry book with his photo in there, the passion erupts completely.
Meanwhile as their affair becomes all that really fulfills them everyday, there's a sub-plot involving a 'flasher', Ronnie, who in one of the very best scenes of the film in a mix of comedy and chilling tension, comes to the pool (after already being warned by the community for flashing himself in front of the kids at the playground), and when he's recognized as the face on all of those fliers all around town the pool empties out like the beach in Jaws. It would be one thing if this was all that was covered with the character, but his story is developed as well: his attachment to his mother (Phyllis Sommerville), and an ill-fated date with someone nearly socially awkward as him. His fate, as well as his mother, becomes in the target of Larry (Emmerich), who finds it to be his duty to stop this pervert of society, even though he himself has a dark past. As the stories of Sara, Brad, and Ronnie come to a head, one sees the formations of Brad as becoming the "bad boy" and Ronnie wanting to be the "good boy", one can see what might happen, or rather what should happen, and all the while conventions are perfectly cast aside.
So much is risky in dealing with the material in Little Children, and Field takes on the risks with the tact of the smartest dramatists. Even with the difficult choice of a narrator- a third person narrator- seems to not work, at first, and then once the stories unfold it actually works more and more to divulge the smallest details that are actually needed (lifted right from the novel, certainly, but without them holes would be left open). Also fascinating is Field's bravery in two things, not making the characters too sympathetic, but also not making them into simplistic figures caught in the wheels of the script. Ronnie especially is a tricky character to pull off, but Field trusts the audience, and also trusts Haley (in an outstanding performance) to convey the complex nature of his sides of meaning well and just being a sexual deviant without compromise (same with Larry, however on a somewhat different level). And the story of infidelity is full of nuance and psychological danger: Brad and Sara practically consider their liaison as a 'game', no matter if the signs come up to Connelly's Kathy (the dinner scene with the two couples, a tremendously acted bit from all involved), yet it's all escapism in the guise of fear of the dead-end that are the parts of their lives that are dreary and crushing to their spirits. All the while Wilson and especially Winslet never break from their characters's souls, and for the latter I would imagine that in a perfect Oscar world she could get the award.
By the end, even in little bits as a writer myself I might have passed by or lessened, I knew I had seen a real gem of a truly American drama. American, I mean, by it displaying figures that could only come out of that part of American life where mothers/wives and fathers/husbands without direction fold into dissatisfaction of that "something" missing, be it Brad watching the skateboarders or Sara with her unused English degree (err, Madame Bovary connection), and the bittersweet possibilities of escape and something better becomes overwhelming (and, if you're Ronnie, there almost is no escape, which makes his plight all the more heart-wrenching).
Made with a certain energy and snap; "Little Children" none the less
feels by the numbers; these wistful suburban melodramas, savage but
with a twist of redeeming compassion, seem to be somebody's idea of
accessible middlebrow art, and they just keep bringing them on. Sexual
obsession leads the characters astray, they are over-punished by a
still repressed society, and we are left with a bit of ironic
sentimentality. Something for everybody?
Kate Winslett actually keeps the movie's head above water for about the first half; She has just about the right touch to draw us in to every scene. Yet we finally start asking why this beautiful and resourceful women ever got stuck with such a total moron, and why doesn't She just leave? I was also impressed by the actress who played the sexual deviant's Mother, who stood out in this small role.
This forced alternating of cruelty and sentiment has really dominated our comedy, drama, and dramady for a long time. It's net effect is to freeze out the audience; to allow the audience to always feel safely above what's going on on the screen. It's a trend who's time has come to pass.
Another pseudo-probing look into suburban hell, this sedate cousin of
"American Beauty" marks Field's second failure to find adequate ways of
grappling fragile relationships American style.
Just as it was the case with the director's highly overrated "In the Bedroom", this all too smug and superficial adult dramedy goes the artsy route without ever finding a deeper reasoning for its "critical" attitudes. The pic can't even decide which standpoint to take towards its flawed protagonists.
The good ensemble actors aren't to blame, and some scenes are effective in a manipulative sort of way, but the contrived ending with all its annoying martyrdom (and silly coincidences) ruins a partly interesting character study.
5 out of 10 weekday relationships
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