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Film Review ***: ...Little Children... Not For Children

Satirical Film About Suburbia Highlights Moody, Disturbing Topics

By Tina Ro

Little Children

Directed by Todd Field

Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta

Written by Todd Field & Tom Perrotta

Produced by Albert Berger, Todd Field,

and Ron Yerxa

Starring Jennifer Connelly, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Gregg Edelman,

and Kate Winslet

New Line Cinema

Rated R

Opens Today

Little Children” brings out the beauty and lack of beauty in everyday life. The satirical film incorporates laughter, sorrow, discomfort, and happiness; the audience leaves the theater emotionally and mentally drained from the intensity of the film. “Little Children,” originally a novel by Tom Perrotta, is directed by Todd Field; Field also directed, “In the Bedroom,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2001.

Taking place in a Massachusetts suburb, “Little Children” revolves around a minimal central plot. Different relationships and events characterize and create cohesion for the movie. The exterior scenario involves a sex offender Ronald James McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley), who after his release from prison attempts to integrate back into society. The neighborhood’s fear and rejection of the man ironically invoke our sympathy for him and his honest attempts to “be good.”

The public’s fear of the “pervert” manifests itself at the playground and town pool — two key locations in the film. These places bring together individuals into what may be called bittersweet relationships. Sarah (Kate Winslet), unhappy with her husband, ventures out with her daughter to the town pool, where she develops a relationship with stay-at-home dad Brad (Patrick Wilson). Sarah is well-educated, yet spends her time as a housewife by choice. Still, each day she desperately desires and looks forward to the little time she dedicates solely to herself. Brad is not dissatisfied with his stay-at-home status; his previous failure of the bar exam and present lack of will to study situates him in a lifestyle of watching his son while his beautiful wife (Jennifer Connelly) works to support them. Brad, with similar tasks as Sarah, provides her with the companionship she wants, while they both endanger their relationships at home.

The movie focuses on dialogue. It barely has a soundtrack — which supports the austere reality “Little Children” desires to portray. The sounds that do appear range from the commotion of children playing at the pool to the sound of deep breathing. Other moments are filled with silence — due to fear, peace, or even just the simple absence of sound in the scene. The movie’s slow movement carries the audience through the scenes in an almost dream-like manner. The camera focuses on details of the surroundings that are normally ignored — such as the sentimental adornments of a home, the majestic sun reflecting off the clear blue surface of the town’s pool, and swings (emphasized with the hollow sound of the swaying of an empty seat) against a blurred playground. These shots give depth and significance to the mundane characteristics of suburban life.

The restricted rating is anything but an understatement. More than nudity or violence, the mature situations and content create discomfort and shock the audience at times. Sober topics such as — adultery and mutilation for starters — arouse and test the viewer.

The complexity of the film, however, does not deprive it of laughter. The dark humor evident throughout presents no single punch lines. Instead, single laughs echo in the theater throughout the entire movie. Different situations appear humorous to different viewers. The guaranteed laughter the film provokes gives just the right amount of comic relief needed to go along with the themes of the film.

The closing of the film ties everything together to the universal ideal that the past is for learning from and the future is for creating. “Little Children” is not a light-hearted Friday night flick; it is much more. This movie shines a unique light onto suburbia.