Little Children (2006)

23Jan10

“No, no, it’s not the cheating. It’s the hunger. The hunger for an alternative, and the refusal to accept a life of unhappiness.” – Sarah Pierce

The monotony of suburban life slowly sinks its claws into our characters from Tom Perrotta’s novel, who also wrote the screenplay. Directed by actor and writer Todd Field (In the Bedroom) and characters portrayed by the prestigious Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly, Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley (Bad News Bears).

It’s Boston, upper middle class, and Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) is stifled by the comforts of suburbia, strained by her young daughter’s constant needs. Formerly a creative academic, she put her self interests on hold for her husband’s successful career, anchoring the home life. While whittling away the day at the park with the neighborhood moms, she meets at home husband Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson) escorting his son to the playground. The other moms refer to him as the “quarterback”, shyly expressing their infatuation with the handsome Brad. Sarah, bored, introduces herself to him, igniting a spark between them.

At home, Sarah’s marriage has become frustrating, her husband more interested in online masturbation than making love to her. She works up the courage to buy a bathing suit and heads to the neighborhood pool, scheming to run into Brad, knowing he regularly takes his son. Soon, they develop a nurturing friendship, Brad himself having issues at home with his wife, notably jump starting a law career he has no interest in.  During their summer afternoons, we are given voice over excerpts from the novel, perfectly fitting as the scenes flow by.

Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Ronnie McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley), recently released from prison for indecent exposure to a minor. He moves in with his mother, who dotes on him, treating him like a boy with constant attention. His unwanted arrival to the neighborhood brings on the wrath of local bully and friend of Brad’s, Larry Hedges, an ex cop with his own baggage of failure. Ronnie is constantly barraged with hate crimes, taunted, but ignores everyone, keeping to himself.

Sarah and Brad finally unleash their passion in the basement of Brad’s laundry room during a rainy afternoon. It begins a torrid affair, the both of them finally freed from the shackles of their burdensome marriages. Sarah becomes serious about their affair, envious of Brad’s life with his wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly). On a hunch, Kathy invites Sarah and her husband over for dinner and detects the sexual tension between Brad and Sarah. She has her mother stay at their house, serving as a spy.

Ronnie’s situation deteriorates. He attempts to swim in the neighborhood pool, littered with children. Soon, the mother’s are screaming, frantic and Ronnie is left alone in the pool, children scurrying for safety, while the police arrive to escort him. Later, he has a failed date his mother arranges for him and Larry continues to torment him. During one of Larry’s hate crimes, Ronnie’s mother has a heart attack leading to her eventual death, devastating Ronnie.

Sarah and Brad agree to make a life together, leaving behind their families, but things don’t go as planned. Ronnie finally hits rock bottom but is saved by an unlikely friend. While the film ties together these parallel stories into a stunning conclusion, we are completely enthralled with the outcome. The intelligent credibility given to the characters and the obstacles they must overcome to find their happiness in an ordinary suburb is unforgettable. Kate Winslet gives a wonderful performance, her desperation, vulnerability striking true in each scene while Patrick Wilson, somewhat unknown, gives a memorable, fresh impression. Jackie Earle Haley, though, almost steals both their thunder, earning a well deserved Oscar nomination.  Todd Field orchestrates a wonderful picture, shot beautifully, which is only his second film. We can only hope for more.

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