Little Children

Little Children 

Film review by: Witney Seibold 


Todd Field made one of the best films of 2001 with “In the Bedroom.” His new film is also about suburban angst, and how a seemingly clean-cut environment can be a quiet breeding ground for transgression, but is lighter in tone, covers more ground, and, oddly, doesn’t have as hard an impact. Maybe I’m just tired of films about American suburban dystopia. Yes, nice houses, swimming pools, local parks, and other comforting rich-person stuff may not be as safe or as comfortable as we think. We get it.              

There are a few stories. The main story follows Sarah (Kate Winslet), a woman who is mildly ostracized by her soccer-mom buddies because she’s not quite on the ball about her parenting than they (they time their kids’ snacking down to the second). When Sarah is dared to get the phone number of a nameless stay-at-home stud (Patrick Wilson from “Phantom of the Opera”) who visits the same park, she ends up kissing him. This means instant alienation from her buddies (they spring to their feet, calling their children the moment the kiss lands), but an awakening of newfound lust for her. In this respect, the film is much like a trashy romance novel. I’m sure that was intentional. It’s also established that Sarah’s husband is a compulsive masturbator who is caught with mail-order underpants over his face at one point. I guess that makes it o.k. for her to want another man.             

There is also a convicted child molester, fresh out of prison, in the neighborhood. The neighborhood is full of kids, so all the parents are understandably nervous about having him around. We don’t see him for a long time, but there’s a lot of talk. In fact, he’s kind of a mythic monster even before we see him. When he finally appears (at the local kiddie pool, no less), every parent and child flees the pool like he was the candybar in “Caddyshack.” The molester is played by Jackie Earle Haley, a onetime child actor, and he gives the best performance in the film. He is creepy, and yet we can feel he is a slave to his passions. He is torn between his lusts, and his desire to be a good boy for his ultra-doting mother. Haley’s performance is the highlight of this film.            

The molester is hounded by an angry ex-cop (Noah Emmerich) who goes by his house late at night with a bullhorn, shouting epithets, and trying to rile up the neighbors. It turns out he has demons of his own for doing this. The aforementioned stud (named, of course, Brad), ends up playing midnight football with the ex-cop.             Brad is married to a woman played by Jennifer Connelly (and I can think of few who would want to cheat on her. Unless it’s with Kate Winslet), but he feels alienated by her success. Predictably, Brad and Sarah begin hanging out at the local pool, they fall in love, and being boinking on a regular basis. The film continues with their affair for some time, bouncing back and forth between the new love/lust, and the healthy monotony of their homes and children.              

The film’s climax in unpredictably violent. Needless to say, all the characters come together, and make some moving new decisions.               This film has a moral stance I cannot quite figure out. The title suggests that it’s better to look after the children than to look after yourself and your own desire to have an affair. But the melodramatic romance-novel love affair doesn’t seem to be adversely affecting the children at all. And, in fact, the child-overprotecting hysteria that leads ordinarily calm to harass child molesters, leads to pain and tragedy for some adults, and only fear in the children. So the children are irrelevant in “Little Children.” The true children are the childish adults who make, if not satisfying, immature decisions about their lives. And the only thing showing this to us is the story of the poor criminal trying to live with people who naturally cannot forgive his criminality.              

A few important notes: “Little Children” runs too long at 130 minutes. And this is peculiar: this is the first film I have seen in a long while that has a disembodied narrator, that is not any of the characters. And what he says is almost Sirkian in its level of melodrama. “Sarah felt the apprehension of a new man’s touch, but couldn’t ignore the feelings stirring within her.” That kinda stuff. It distances us from the material a bit, and not in a good way. It lends that Sirkian tone of overblown scandal-rag to the entire affair, and I’m sure Sirk never thought about adding a child molester. It’s a weird mixture of serious and obvious. 

Published in: on May 11, 2007 at 7:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

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