Little Children

Movies like Little Children do not come around too often.  They are hard to categorize, often mixing in elements of different genres.  Little Children, directed and adapted by Todd Phillips (In the Bedroom) from Tom Perrota's novel, mixes in drama, comedy, and tragedy as it relates to three families in a small community.  It is a quietly powerful film that explores the bonds between family members and what it takes to break them down, and is full of strong performances from Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly, and a surprising Jackie Earle Haley.

The stories weave in and out of each other.  Sarah Pierce (Winslet, All the King's Men, Finding Neverland) is unhappy in her marriage to Richard (Gregg Edelman, Spider-Man 2, City by the Sea).  They are married with a young daughter, Lucy (Sadie Goldstein).  Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson, Hard Candy, The Phantom of the Opera) feels emasculated in his marriage.  He failed the bar exam twice, and is studying for a third try (although he sits and watches teenage skateboarders instead).  His wife Kathy (Connelly, Dark Water, House of Sand and Fog) makes movies, and makes all the money in the house.  He raises their son Aaron (Ty Simpkins, War of the Worlds).  Convicted pedophile Ronald James McGorvey (Haley, All the King's Men, Nemesis) is out of jail and living with is mother May (Phyllis Somerville, Swimfan, Bringing Out the Dead) .  Ex-policeman Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich, Cellular, Miracle) goes on a one-man crusade to inform the neighborhood about McGorvey's presence, as well as to harass McGorvey.

The central story surrounds Sarah and Brad as they edge towards infidelity.  Sarah and Richard's relationship is nonexistent (Richard feels like an afterthought in the movie, which is one of its weaknesses), and she doesn't relate to the other mothers who play in the park.  They are catty and tend to gossip.  One object of their curiosity is Brad, whom they nickname "the Prom King" for his good looks.  On a dare, Sarah goes to speak with him, and sparks fly.  Time passes, and the two get closer, using their children as an excuse.  Meanwhile, Brad joins a football team with Larry, and is drafted into Larry's crusade against Ronald.  May tries to get Ronald to put his life back on track, which includes a date that shows a tender side of him, as well as a disgusting one.

Phillips is interested in exploring how people react to desperation and loneliness.  Sarah and Brad attraction stems from the fact that they are kindred spirits, and that their relationship is something new in an otherwise dreary life.  With their spouses, Sarah and Brad are listless, or worse, antagonistic.  But together, they are full of life and joy.  When Kathy begins to suspect something, the pain and anger she feels comes across without words.  The characters seem to be in relatively ordinary situations (they're just parents) but the script gives them a huge depth of material to work from.  Even lesser characters like Larry and Ronald could be caricatures, but Phillips gives them depth, especially as Little Children nears its sometimes hyperactive conclusion.  Trains seem to be everywhere.  As transportation, Aaron's toys, or just in the background.  There always seems to be train whistle blowing.  The feeling is actually a bit claustrophobic, mimicking the trapped feeling of Sarah, Brad, and even Ronald and Larry.  By the end of Little Children, Phillips has taken the audience on their own little train ride through the lives of these characters.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 17 minutes, Rated R for strong sexuality and nudity, language, and some disturbing content.

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