Little Children ****
The suburbia setting is the metaphorical playground for the actions of the characters in "Little Children." A landscape of connected people, who all know one another, and should learn how to play nice. When we are all younger, there are a few simple rules that our parents teach us never to do-don't steal, don't lie, don't talk to strangers, don't pick on others that aren't your size, etc. But, it seems like the parents in this film need to be taught a lesson, as they do all of these things, only in stronger and more disturbing ways.
Beginning on a quiet little town, in a quiet little park, "Little Children" starts with a narrated introduction of Sarah(Kate Winslet)-who is described as slightly boyish, quiet, and one who keeps to herself (even though I can't ever understand how any script can manage to use the phrase "boyish," and then cast Kate Winslet without changing any dialogue, but whatever). Sarah seems a bit out of place. She has a masters degree in English literature, and seems more interested in the actions of Madame Bovery, as opposed to her daughter Lucy, whom she can't even seem to remember her snack. She is in a marriage that means nothing as her husband looks at porn all day, and she has no connection to the other mothers at all. Except, however, when "The Prom King"(Patrick Wilson) comes into the park. He is a father who comes in with his little son all the time, but his mysterious absence for the past few months has become the main hot topic with the mothers. Sarah is dared to go up to him and find out his name and number, to which she accepts, and the two begin a friendship of sorts. He is married to Kathy(Jennifer Connelly), a documentary film maker who also seems to be more interested in her film about a little girl, as opposed to the needs of her own son. When her son sleeps in the same bed with his parents at night she doesn't even have the decency to cover up when she leans over him to give her husband a long kiss while wearing skimpy underwear. Sarah and Brad are tired of their lives, and the only place where they can find solace is when they are with one another. They find many excuses to be with one another, often using their children as the way to do it. Sarah knows that Brad will be at the local pool at a certain time everyday, and she uses her kid as a way to go there. There will be no suspicion if she is seen at the pool with her daughter. It is only then that they decide that maybe they should go off together, away from their humdrum and dull lives, and into something new, fresh, and exciting.
A few blocks away is Ronald(Jackie Earle Haley) a registered sex offender who was just recently released from jail, and who just moved in with his mother, May. May has trust in her son, and forgives him for any mistakes that he might have made in the past. He thinks that she is a good boy who just needs a nice woman his own age , which is why she places an ad in the newspaper for him to find a date. Ronald would like to live some kind of a normal life, if that is even possible, but his life is instead made miserable by Larry, a former cop who is horrified at the notion of having a sex offender live in his town. He remedies this by forming a group against him, and by plastering fliers all over the town. He bullies Ronald by pulling up to his house every single night, a few times each night, and calling out insults and warnings to him.
This is the playground that these characters play in. Larry is the bully, who picks on Ronald. Ronald is that kid in the playground who always seems to have to be with his mother, and who would not be able to go on without her. Then there is Brad and Sarah, who are selfish and only look for things for their own benefit. And Kathy, who is a little selfish, and a bit self centered, but what kind of up and coming film maker isn't. All of these characters are not happy with the way they live their lives, and they are all looking for some kind of alternative. At the breakfast table while Brad and Kathy talk, you could hear the sounds of a train whistle far off in the distance, as if beckoning for Brad to go off and leave his home. The same for Sarah as she is visited at night by a neighbor. It's faint, but it is there.
"Little Children" is another one of the best films of the year. It is a dark and pitch perfect satire, never laugh out loud funny, but darkly comic enough to make the bitter heart happy. The last twenty minutes are some of the most frightening minutes I've spent in a movie theater, as I approached the edge of my seat, wanting the film to end to see what happens, but at the same time never wanting the experience to finish. It was strange. It has terrific performances, especially by Kate Winslet, who is unable to do wrong, and Jackie Earle Haley, who has been absent for a while by seems to make some sort of a breakthrough here. There are no characters to really root for here. They all do their good and their bad. Even Ronald, the sex offender, shows signs of being human, but he completely erases it with some of the acts that he does. But he is trying. Over the last few years I have come into the practice of observing characters instead of always trying to relate to them, or finding too much to hate. Some of my favorite characters in the last few years of film are those that do some of the most wretched things. Things that you don’t think you can forgive them for. Well, maybe they don’t want you too.
I said before that "Little Children" is about looking for a life better than the one you have, but at the same time it is about keeping and accepting the life that was given to you. To ignore the various train whistles that call out to us in the midst of a crisis. To try and make life work without succumbing to the temptation of the first thing that falls in your lap, and most of all to abide by the rules of life, which never seem to change from being a kid. Instead, they just get a little more mature, but the meaning never ceases.