Released 2007. Director: Todd Field
SOME PEOPLE NEVER SEEM TO GROW UP. They may attain an academic degree, get married, have children, but quite often, they are not that all different from a child in outlook and behaviour. Set against an idyllic, sun-dappled and affluent suburb in New England, Little Children is a thought-stirring portrait of the emptiness and dysfunction behind pretty houses and the guise of happy family lives. The voice of an unseen narrator, like a neighbour who sees and knows too much, introduces us to the denizens of the story and tells us how they get themselves into a big bloody mess.
Sarah is married to a porn-fixated husband she no longer loves. She has a young daughter but is worn out by her motherly duties. She has a Master’s in Literature and feels frustratingly superior to the women around her. Initially goaded by other mothers at a playground to approach an attractive father out playing with his son, she takes up the challenge but then allows a friendship to turn into an affair.
Brad, the father in question, is a fulltime househusband with a law degree and is still studying for his bar exam for the third time, or possibly fourth. He is much too carefree about his legal future and clearly finds his life a bore. He plays balls with his mates but tells his wife he’s studying at the library. He misses his exam to spend a weekend with Sarah. Even when he walks out of his marriage to elope with Sarah, he’s distracted on the street and ends up skateboarding.
Adding more drama is the presence of a convicted child molester, Ronnie, recently released from jail and living with his elderly mother in the same neighbourhood. The unforgiving and harsh attitude of most of the parents towards Ronnie is both riotously and disquietingly manifested in a public swimming pool scene that is more like something out of Jaws.
Self-appointed moral protector Larry prowls the street where Ronnie lives, blasting his loudhailer in the dead of night to rouse animosity towards Ronnie in a manner not so unlike that of a schoolyard bully.
Whether or not the characters set out with an intention to do anything wrong, they find themselves in psychologically punishing situations in the end, the consequences of their own actions. Todd Field has drawn out an ensemble of proficient acting from his cast. Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson are extremely believable in their characters because they show not a hint of Hollywood star quality but only the humdrum, dull and repetitive routine of jaded suburbanites. Jackie Earl Haley brings a piercing performance as the sex offender who can’t summon the will to reform himself (or maybe he doesn’t want to) but at heart, he is simply a child who wants to please his mother. Overlooked at awards season and under-seen by audiences, Little Children is worth repeat viewing for its manifold ideas.