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.
A veteran high school teacher befriends a younger art teacher, who is having an affair with one of her 15-year-old students. However, her intentions with this new "friend" also go well beyond platonic friendship.
Depressed single mom Adele and her son Henry offer a wounded, fearsome man a ride. As police search town for the escaped convict, the mother and son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited.
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
'Little Children' is one of those movies set in suburbia that explores men and women dealing with strained marriages, the politics of parenting, inertia, loneliness, fidelity/infidelity and dangers lurking beneath the surface. When not done well, films like this can appear to be overblown soap operas. When done right, like this one is, it is something to sink your teeth into and enjoy.
Sarah (Winslet) and Brad (Patrick Wilson) are both one-child, stay-at-home parents with a lack of focus or drive in their lives and a lack of connection with their spouses. Sarah is more frustrated - unwilling to just have a healthy fantasy life like the the other park mothers, while Brad drifts around and broods. They use their children as an excuse to spends more and more time with each other. Both actors give very bold performances here, their characters' emotions radiate off their bodies even when they're not saying much. Winslet is particularly good, managing to give Sarah an earthy sensuality. Her character feels so trapped that her lust for a purposeful and happy life becomes a rebellion. Winslet makes Sarah so in touch with her emotional needs and gives her such a charged urgency that I found her alluring, something I haven't felt towards her in her past performances, through she's always been an attractive and extremely good actress.
In the other story, a recently-released child sex offender (he exposed himself to some kids) named Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley) tries to exist in a community that is being taught to fear him. Haley really shines in his role as a man acutely aware that his dark urges are wrong but is still in their grip. Haley is far more deserving of the supporting actor Oscar than Alan Arkin was, for his by-the-numbers 'Little Miss Sunshine' performance, but I guess they wanted to give him some sort of lifetime achievement recognition.
The movie slowly, piece by piece, becomes more gripping as everyones' lives become more desperate and tangled. This is sort of like 'Desperate Housewives' except more mature and less quippy. The script and direction manage to maintain focus on what is important. A criticism I have heard of this movie is that Brad and Sarah's spouses (Jennifer Connelly and Greg Edelman) are not developed enough and only serve to justify the two leads. Even though this may be true (Sarah's husband is pretty much a cameo) I have mixed feelings on this. The filmmakers' clear intention was only to feature the spouses in a way that gives you an idea of the relationship they have with the main characters, and to further flesh out the main characters. In other words, less is more. While this may or may not have been fine, it is only the ending of the film where it becomes a relevant problem. The film ends for Sarah and Brad in a way that calls into question the exact state of their current marriages. Since the spouses are underwritten, the viewer is left with a bit of an empty feeling. We've come to know the characters very well, but the information isn't quite aligned with the questions the ending raises. Also the film shows its literary roots through its heavy reliance on a narrator at the start, which (don't worry) becomes rarer as the film progresses. Much of what the narrator says is unnecessary as the actors are often already doing such a great job acting out the narrated text.
However, all this aside, 'Little Children' is clearly engaging, entertaining, carefully made and doesn't struggle to find things to say. I highly recommend it, if, like me, you're of those people who are constantly looking for something meaty in terms of acting, story and dramatic conflict.
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