If ever the pages of a novel felt like they were being projected onto a silver screen, that film would be “Little Children.”
The film has many components found in strong literature: thorough character
development, symbolism, a setting that comes to life and even a narrator. It’s no wonder that this movie is an adaptation.
Tom Perrotta’s novel about affairs and fear in suburbia is brought to life by Todd Field, the director of the Oscar nominated “In the Bedroom.” After parents Sarah and Brad (respectively played by Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson) share a joking kiss in the playground, they find themselves in unbridled passion during their children’s afternoon naps.
Both unhappy in their lives for different
reasons, the two parents engage in an affair that’s not so hidden from their neighbors, but manages to go quite unnoticed by their spouses.
At the same time, Ronnie, a convicted sex offender, moves into town, and peaks his neighbors’ paranoia, as well as their snoopy inclinations. Propelled by their own gossip, the town is on the verge of a breakdown, all caused by irrational fear.
“Little Children” is very much in the style of Field’s first film, “In the Bedroom.”
The film is as quiet and serene as staring at a painting, yet unlike “Bedroom,” there’s no horrifying jolt in the middle, end or anywhere.
There’s a tremendous build-up that’s conveyed in every camera shot and leads the audience to believe there’s going to be a massive disturbance at any second. But it never comes. Instead, there’s an annoying crescendo with no payoff.
Luckily, there are other components that save this film. Remember, like any solid literary work, the plot isn’t the only aspect that matters.
Staying true to form, Winslet is magnificent as Sarah. Her embarrassment and inadequacy as a mother is felt when she forgets her daughter Lucy’s snack pack at the playground.
There aren’t even any significant lines that follow – simply Winslet’s face and body language tell that she knows what a poor job she’s doing as a mother.
These scenes are not filled with plot twists or action – they are quiet and dialogue-dependent. Winslet uses this to her advantage and therefore develops her character as much as she can in any way that she can.
Impressively standing up to Winslet is Wilson, whose track record (although small) is proving him to be one of the Hollywood’s interesting new actors. Even when he’s being serious, he can bring light humor to any scene with his inflections and flash glances. He’s an actor of subtlety, and it works.
Field is lucky to have these two fantastic
leads, because he completely wastes the amazing talent of Jennifer Connelly, who plays Wilson’s wife, a grossly underdeveloped character.
She’s barely in the film, and even the few moments she’s on screen don’t give her the chance to do much. There’s a pivotal fork drop in a kitchen that’s done very nicely – but it’s probably not enough for an Oscar nomination.
This movie is peppered with trains. The children play with toy trains, Wilson goes to a train station in an important scene, and always in the background, the chug-a-chug of a train can be heard.
It seems that these trains are symbolism for something important, but by the time the credits roll, no meaning has surfaced.
It was a missed opportunity on Field’s part. The trains could have been for “Little Children” what the color red was for “The Sixth Sense.”
“Little Children” doesn’t say much by its conclusion. The little social commentary it has made regarding judgment of others feels disconnected in its two-and-a-half hours.
What it lacks in connectivity, it makes up for in acting, character development and beautiful cinematography.
The film opens at Ritz Theatres Oct. 20.
Jesse North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.