on October 11, 2006
"Little Children" is a perfect movie: intelligently directed, lavishly produced, beautifully photographed, gloriously acted, intricately plotted and logically put together.
Director Todd Field's first film, "In the Bedroom" (based on a story by Andre Dubus) was also effective, moving, and brutal: a kitchen sink drama about a murder, the families involved with that murder and the repercussions involved therein.
In "Little Children," Fields has ratcheted up the living circumstances to upstate, suburban Massachusetts: plain jane, Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) unhappily married to a porno -obsessed, mostly absent husband, the drop dead gorgeous couple of Kathy and Brad Anderson (Patrick Wilson and for once not playing a victim, the luminous Jennifer Connolly) who have reached an impasse in their marriage as Kathy is it's sole provider and Brad is conflicted about taking the Law Bar exam for the third time. Thrown into this mix is a recently released from jail for exposing himself to a child, Ronald McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley) and his loving, doting Mother (Phyllis Somerville).
Sarah and Brad, both with their children, meet in a park one day: attraction is inevitable though neither is the other ones "type." That said, what they do fill for each other are those voids that tend to get bigger and deeper as we grow older, grow more disappointed with our lives and realize that our dreams will probably not come true. Fairy-tale romance this one? Hardly. Fields is too much the realist, his psyche and artistic intuition too much about the realities of contemporary life to go that route and Winslet and Wilson give Sarah and Brad their all: vulnerable, romantic, crazy-in-lust even but again always looking over their shoulders for that "thing" that will break them up. Their sex scenes are filmed with this kind of tension and though they make love in private, they may as well be outdoors on a busy street because, though they are definitely into it...both have one eye open...waiting for the door to open, waiting to be discovered, caught, unveiled.
Though there is a lot of sex and violence here, there is really not much love except that between the "sex criminal" Ronald and his Mother. Ronald's Mom loves him without reservation though she is more than aware of his shortcomings. She even goes so far as to arrange a computer date for him as "you need to meet a nice girl, Ronald." What ensues is inevitable and funny/sad.
Jennifer Connelly plays Kathy as an icy-cold *itch, seemingly in control, career-minded, needing Brad to step up to the plate financially and professionally but at the same time needing him to be adrift, lost, emotionally wounded so that she can despise and pity him, be her whipping boy, her child yet her husband. In many ways, Kathy needs Brad to fail so that she can feel superior, to have a vessel into which she can pour her bile. When Connolly intuits the affair between Brad and Sarah at a dinner at her home, she does it with barely a nod of her head and a deep, burning flick of her beautiful eyes: you actually feel her eyes gouging a hole into you as you watch.
"Little Children" is about just that...but not the chronologically appropriate ones. It's about supposed adults who carry on without thinking like adults, without weighing or really caring about the consequences of their actions. And like Ang Lee's masterful "Ice Storm," "Little Children" is psychically set in a place in which we must tread very carefully always aware that what he is saying here might just apply to our very own lives.