Little Children

Director: Todd Field

As many critics pointed out, the Little Children named in the title of Todd Field’s sophomore film (which followed his critical, award-winning smash In The Bedroom) aren’t children at all but the adult residents of a contemporary suburban community. Based on the novel by Tom Perrota (and co-written by Field with the author), the main characters in Little Children act like their namesake in not wanting to take an important test, having to deal with neighborhood bullies, being told to be “good” by their parents, and having to be reminded by their children that story time is due. In her Oscar nominated performance (and frankly one the most deserving of the award in 2006), Kate Winslet is fearless as unhappily married Sarah Pierce, a highly intelligent woman who, despite holding a Master’s Degree in English literature is a basically inept and slightly apathetic mother of a strong willed daughter named Lucy with a husband recently discovered to have a bizarre addiction to adult websites. During one of her routine visits to the local park where the other mothers judge one another and discuss their strict adherence to regimented schedules and to-do lists (rendering the often forgetful Sarah an outsider), Sarah meets the man the other women refer to as “The Prom King,” the attractive stay-at-home father Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson, handpicked by Winslet for the role). Brad, who is basically the stereotypical female in his marital relationship with his gorgeous, bread-winning documentary filmmaker wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), who supports her husband while he grudgingly attempts to try yet another time to pass the bar exam, is as aimless and lost as Sarah in his life. The two begin setting up play dates for their children and quickly become entangled in a serious affair while the rest of the neighborhood is preoccupied with the recent release of convicted sex offender, Ronnie J. McGorvey (an Oscar nominated Jackie Earle Haley in his first film role in thirteen years). We meet Ronnie as he struggles with the scorn of the community under the protection of his fiercely dedicated mother who tries her hardest to shield her grown son from the terrorizing committee of concerned parents, led by ex-police officer retired with post-traumatic stress (the always underrated Noah Emmerich), who, with his own family life in shambles, is leading a one-man bullying crusade against Ronnie. The dark film, which initially did illicit some concern from a few critics who labeled it misogynistic as we are first introduced to the neighborhood women with the film’s running narration (by an un-credited Will Lyman who adds a literary air to the piece, making it seem like a foreign Lars Von Trier styled American film) actually struck me as equally critical, if not more so, of the film’s male characters who are far more dangerous than the women as the story progresses and Field’s investigation of the cruel secrets and desires hiding in suburbia are revealed. Basically, nobody is left off the hook in the film, and not only is there an indictment of suburbia at the heart of the movie (including a plot that was very similar to one used on this year’s Desperate Housewives, which as of this review has been dropped possibly due to being far too similar to Little Children) but also an undercurrent subtext about our post 9/11 America as Emmerich and Wilson discuss homeland security, flags fly high and proud despite Kubrickian irony and a few other catchphrases and issues populating the evening news are casually introduced and just as casually tossed aside. There is a lot to the film lying just beneath the surface plus the adaptation from novel to screen is remarkably thoughtful (earning Perotta and Field an Oscar nomination), and in addition Little Children received roughly twenty nominations and several awards from festivals around the globe. While I predict that In The Bedroom will be hailed as Field’s masterpiece and it is one that, due to Children’s intensity is probably slightly easier for general audiences to view (despite its darkness as well), Little Children is nonetheless compelling and highly daring filmmaking and a film that feels like a worthy companion piece to Bedroom.