Director: Todd Field
Starring: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley
Oscars: Nom – Leading Actress, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay
Not all Oscar nominated dramas get the attention or the longevity that they perhaps deserve, and Todd Field’s Little Children is certainly one of them. Though clearly inspired by American Beauty, the movie offers its own commentary on American suburbia through the eyes of a disillusioned housewife, a bored stay at home Dad and convicted sex offender.
For the first ten minutes you will endure an incessant film noire style narration, but this eventually tapers off to let the story speak for itself. Overuse of narration often indicates a script that is too weak to show exposition through action and dialogue, but annoyingly Little Children was perfectly capable of establishing itself, and it felt almost like the filmmakers didn’t trust us to get where we needed without their help.
Nonetheless, it all starts in the park. Kate Winslet frequents daily so her daughter can play with the other kids, but the physical distancing of her from the other Moms suggests she is not your typical housewife. Todd Field effectively posed a disparity with Winslet’s character, placing her in a world in which she didn’t look the part. So a dare from the other women to get the number from ‘The Prom King’ – an attractive guy who sometimes brings his Son to the park – is her opportunity to act out.
An introduction leads to conversation which soon leads to a kiss, justified by the shock value.
The subsequent affair plays the central strand in a narrative that focuses on multiple characters in the neighborhood. Larry is the depressed former cop who disgraced himself by shooting a child in the mall. Ronnie is the middle-aged sex offender recently moved back in with his mother, though alienated and reviled by the rest of the community. This is not the American Dream; this is a masquerade, where the aim of the game is to look the part.
As Sarah and Brad’s affair escalated, the pair find it increasingly difficult to play by their middle class suburban rules, and of course things take a turn for the dramatic.
But the most fascinating story is that of Ronnie, which rightly earned Jackie Earle Haley a supporting actor nomination. The guy clearly has that look, having been cast as Freddy Kruger several years later. Ronnie is a man trapped not by the physical but the psychological and ideological. His life is a constant battle between what he wants and what he is told to want, but his past condemns him to a future of social seclusion. To Ronnie there is no way out of being who he is. Director Todd Field brilliantly creates a character with real depth – we hate him but we empathise, and his story is quite difficult to watch.
Ultimately, Little Children is nothing particularly new following films such as American Beauty and Far From Heaven, but it was an impressive contribution to this strand of critically acclaimed commentary on the American Dream. An underrated gem that is highly worth watching.