Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.
Little Children was directed by Todd Field, who also directed In the Bedroom, a movie I thought was surprisingly good. While there is some similarity here, this felt a lot more like a Todd Solondz movie. It felt like watching Happiness, which was brutally difficult to get through, ugly, and horrible in so many ways. Little Children doesn’t go that far, of course. At the same time, it is oddly reminiscent of Magnolia. There are traces of David Lynch in here as well, with the horror that lies behind the front porches of suburban homes.
There’s a lot going on here. The main focus is on parts of two different couples. Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) is a stay-at-home mother with a Masters in English literature, having abandoned her doctorate to raise her daughter Lucy. Sarah feels trapped in her life and her marriage. That her husband Richard (Gregg Edelman) has a porn addiction hasn’t really helped the marriage any. One day at the local playground with other mothers and other children, she encounters Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson), a stay-at-home father raising his son Aaron. Brad’s marriage with his documentarian wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) seems ideal but lacks intimacy. Soon enough, Sarah and Brad are spending a great deal of time together and an affair naturally develops.
Brad is supposed to be studying for the bar exam, which he has failed twice. Instead, he spends his time watching local kids at a skate park, thinking about his lost youth. It is here that he encounters Larry (Noah Emmerich), a former cop who has retired after an accidental shooting of a teen at a nearby mall. Larry’s life is tied up in two things—an amateur touch football team for which he recruits Brad, and harassing Ronnie McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley), a child predator recently released from prison.
Events swirl around these characters, colliding in a variety of ways. Sarah and Brad spend their days together and dream of running away, taking the opportunity for a weekend alone when Richard Pierce is out of town and Brad is supposed to be taking the bar. Larry, who has lost all direction in his life save for his two obsessions, becomes even more focused when his wife leaves him, going so far as to continually confront Ronnie and Ronnie’s mother (Phyllis Somerville) at all hours. For his part, Ronnie attempts to live as normal a life as he can, but is unable to shake the terrible attractions he feels.
All of this makes Little Children set up for a terrible series of events and tragedies, and while the movie doesn’t really go all the way there, it goes far enough to make things nerve-wracking and unpleasant. So why does this feel so much like a combination of Magnolia, Happiness, and David Lynch? It’s because of how everything seems to happen. Like Happiness, there is a sense of the sick and twisted private lives that people live behind closed doors. The pedophilia part of the film goes there as well. There is a sort of horrible shame attached to the characters who can’t seem to help but act in the way they do. Like Magnolia, everything flies together at the end, a confluence of events that seem to not presage something, but to have happened together not by coincidence, but by fate. Like Lynch’s films, there is so much hidden from the world revealed to us, the secret and sordid and tawdry lives of people who present the exterior of wholesomeness.
The real question is whether or not I liked this movie. I don’t really have an answer for that. It’s not one I will probably watch again any time soon. I won this specifically because of a bulk sale at my local library—the movies for sale were pretty cleanly picked through, but, knowing I had to watch this eventually, I grabbed it. I can’t help but think it’s beautifully made, though. The narration (an uncredited Will Lyman), another reminder of Magnolia, is an odd choice, but one that works, I think.
Both Kate Winslet and Jackie Earle Haley were nominated for Oscars for this film. For Winslet, it’s not a massive surprise, this being her fifth (of seven). Winslet is good in this, as she generally is, and while she has several scenes of great intensity, I don’t know that she did a great deal specifically that merited the nomination. Haley’s nomination is a lot more interesting. Haley had left the movie business in 1993, returning for this and All the King’s Men after a 13-year hiatus. It’s as good a performance as he ever turned in, interesting in that he attempts (and succeeds in places) in humanizing a monster.
Little Children is unpleasant in a lot of ways. It feels like a horror movie in certain ways, like picking up a log on the ground and finding a mass of maggots writhing underneath. I’m not entirely sure why that is. I respect the hell out of it, though, and I think Todd Field needs to make more movies.
Why to watch Little Children: It’s like Todd Solondz channeling David Lynch.
Why not to watch: It’s ugly in a lot of ways.