« Home | What you should've watched this Halloween. » | Angelo Badalamenti - Piano Mulholland Drive FYE. » | Ebert. » | Mini-review: X-Men 3 » | Review: The Departed » | Joe. » | Book review: The Fall of the House of Usher » | Mini-review: The Sentinel » | Marty doesn't live here anymore. » | Review: A Scanner Darkly » 

Saturday, November 04, 2006 

Review: Little Children

I wanted to want to like Todd Field's Little Children. My problem lies with the Dubus family - those responsible for Field's previously Oscar nominated screenplay for In the Bedroom, and likewise the unfortunate duo of equally hemmed-in, delusional, precocious melodramas (read: House of Sand and Fog and marginally grubbier We Don't Live Here Anymore). On the surface, Little Children -which cribs instead from Tom Perotta's novel- seems no different: a bunch of holier-than-thou suburbanites decide to shake things up a little, only their self-inflicted prejudices get in the way. Tragedy ensues.

And perhaps with greater tonal clarity, the gimmick may have worked. The refreshing difference between the screen translations of Perotta vs. Dubus would be the former's nubile characterisations smack less of sexless misanthropy. Hedonistic Gen X'ers they may be, but at least their moral righteousness won't fuel rampant audience alienation. Kate Winslet's Sarah Pierce is knowingly deserving of a better life (or what she perceives to be a better life), yet without the unwelcome tang of American Beauty smugness. This is, in part, aided by an omnipotent narrator, whose dry remarks fire the much needed black humour but also highlight Children's innumerate problems: surely it's a little -get this- infantile to tell us rather than show us. It's also a little presumptuous.

Backscored by the hum of trains sans cesse, Little Children is by parts cheeky social satire and doom ridden serialised drama. From the moment stay-at-home parents Winslet and Wilson clap eyes on each other, there's an instant expectation of adultery, partly through their broody performances but also that pesky narration. Field seems more in love this device's functionality, tonality, and personality than the enviable array of talent at his disposal. This may explain why Jennifer Connelly gets lost in the mix somewhere. Moreover the apparent catalyst of the entire affair is the undesirable integration of a former sex offender (laced with an appropriate creepiness by Jackie Earle Haley) into the neighbourhood. The trouble being it doesn’t serve the film’s central conceit at all except for want of narrative cleverness. Other than that, it’s just interesting jibber-jabber. In fact our interest peaks right about the time Winslet does. From there on in, it feels like about nine months of unwanted pregnancy. One well-acted satiric skit bungles its way into another by proxy of gawky expressiveness.

Indeed, the film is largely plotless but that shouldn’t matter, it’s simply the hysterical attempt at profundity in the last ten minutes that serve to bury the entire film's mock philosophy. Falling off a skateboard just doesn’t warrant a critical re-evaluation of your dead-end existence. Similar tries to legitimise its glib disconnectivity in its final reel appear rushed and messy- an awkward contrast with the relaxed steaminess Field tries hard to maintain from the clincal opening titles. Little Children is too plimp and natty to be solely driven by dialogue, yet it lacks the booksmarts of its female protagonist to exorcise a fitting conclusion worthy of its genuine moodiness. File under interesting experiment.

I really enjoyed Mr. Perrotta's novel, and "in the Bedroom," so I'm sorry to hear this one disappoints .. it's still on my must-see list for the rest of this year, but negative word is starting to mount, so I may not knock it back a few spots

Jackie Earle Haley certainly was creepy but I was even more impressed with the performance of Phyllis Somerville, who played his mother. She brought a level of discomfort to the movie that few could pull off.

Post a Comment
Hit Counter