Thursday, April 26, 2007


Little Children is a tightly wound time bomb of a movie. It is full of ticking clocks, tense or nervous conversations, ill conceived actions and judgmental glances (welcome to the United States of the last 5 years). The film is an artfully structured satirical melodrama - and who really makes those - now or ever? It feels like an intimate hybrid of Todd Solondz ’s Happiness and Lars von Trier ’s Dogville and comes complete with droll voice-over narration.

It follows a cross-section of suburban dwellers in an anonymous upscale, likely gated, community. It follows two couples. First is stay at home mom and English Literature graduate (Kate Winslet), and her too-much-time-at-the-office husband who has a mild obsession for internet pornography. They have a temperamental five year old daughter who will not listen her mother, especially if it involves getting into a car seat or stroller. There is a stay at home dad (Patrick Wilson, who after Hard Candy is on the verge of being typecast in the role of sexy emasculated men) who is studying to pass his law exam, but is easily distracted by something as simple of teenage skateboards who hang outside the library, and his gorgeous, documentary filmmaker wife (Jennifer Connelly) who undoubtedly wears the pants in the family. They have a son who seems not to respect his dad, and sleeps every night in his parent’s bed. The film features a gallery of side characters including a released sex offender (Jackie Earle Haley) whose face is plastered all over town by an ex cop (Noah Emmerich) who was pushed out of the force due to accidentally shooting a mall rat waving a fake gun around, but still needs to patrol the neighborhood. He mainly parks outside the sex offenders mothers house (her son recently moved back in after jail) honking his horn or issuing threats from a megaphone. And then there is the gallery of stay at home mothers who go to the park to more or less get a break from their children and gawk at Patrick Wilson, or pass judgment on various parenting choices.

The film revolves mainly around the affair started between the Wilson and Kate Winslet characters, Brad and Sarah, who have some trouble fitting into the neighborhood and too much free time on their hands. Sarah tries to hang out with the local women, who choose to surreptitiously glance and fantasize about Brad, dubbing him The Prom King, but do not want to put the effort to talk to him (“we would have to put on make up or be concerned about our clothes, that is too much work”). Sarah also finds their conservative and judging attitudes off putting, to the point where she feels the need to play devils advocate and be ultra liberal. The flirty kiss with The Prom King, executed in front of those women as an amusing way to get a rise out of them, starts those trains from the trailer (and constantly heard in the background in the film) rolling. As the affair begin to swirl with tension, secrets and lies the narrative thread involving the home life of the sex offender begins to get more developed. His mother is trying to get him out dating (to help him control those urges and be a good boy – he is 40ish), all the while scrubbing the hate graffiti painted on the sidewalk in front of their house, presumably by the ex-cop.

Little Children tries very hard to give you perspective on things while looking at how other characters in the film, which clearly lack perspective, make quick judgments based on few facts and their own hang-ups. It is also a thinly veiled parable of the current climate in the United States. One particularly scathing comment on the culture of fear is the reaction of the community moms when the sex offender decides to talk a dip in the public pool. The full on panic of the mothers, complete with children who do not understand what is going on, but can taste the fear in the air nonetheless is almost shot for shot the crowded beach sequence in Jaws. Not just content to attack the ‘moral majority’ right, there are many darts thrown in the direction of the ‘bleeding heart’ left. Todd Field's In the Bedroom painted complicated emotions with liberal wish-fulfillment fantasy the second half negated the first half. Here he has eradicated that flaw and taken Little Children to the next level, and one of the best (and sadly mis-marketed) films of 2006.

Things are never simple in the film, which is elaborately structured to yield maximum provocation. It is designed to manipulate; allowing empathy for the various characters in some scenes and encouraging you to despise them in others. The two actual children are sort of beside the point in the film, with the focus on the adults who are actually the little children in the midst of identity crises.


Anonymous Charlotte said...


Your analysis of this film is spot on. It is one of the most subversive films I have ever seen.


7:54 p.m.  

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