Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Sexual perversity in suburbia

By Edward Copeland
I was a fan of Todd Field's In the Bedroom, especially the performances of Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek, though I understood the criticism some had of it — it was pretty heavy and humorless. I'm glad to say that Little Children raises Field's work as a director another notch and does inject levity into the proceedings.

In fact, for the first hour or so, I was enthralled and thought I might be watching the best 2006 film until I started to fear that various story strands weren't going to come together in a cohesive, satisfying way. I still liked Little Children a great deal, but alas it doesn't tie its story together in a way to really make the whole package work.

Usually, I'm no great fan of voiceover narration, but in Little Children it really works as performed by Will Lyman as an omniscient storyteller, who I assume is lifting passages directly from the novel by Tom Perrotta upon which the film is based (and whose screenplay was co-written by Perrotta and Field). Those passages insert a lot of sardonic humor into the story and serve as elaboration instead of exposition.

Kate Winslet is the ostensible star as a suburban mom with an unhappy marriage to a man with a secret Internet porn habit and a daughter to whom she can't really connect. She spends most days taking the girl to the park where other stay-at-home moms gather to gossip and chatter, especially about the sudden return of "The Prom King" (Patrick Wilson), a rare father who shows up to the park with his child.

Having failed the Bar Exam twice, Wilson seems unsatisfied as he depends upon his wife (Jennifer Connelly), but he and Winslet develop a friendship. On top of these stories hang the community's concern about the arrival of a released sex offender (Jackie Earle Haley, long absent from movie screens but still recognizable from his days in the original Bad News Bears and Breaking Away), especially a former cop (Noah Emmerich) who develops an obsession with the freed man.

For most of the film, I was entranced, not only by the performances and sharp script, but especially by Field's visual style, which has really grown since In the Bedroom. However, as the film moved along, the feeling that there wasn't a clear destination in mind began to gnaw at me, a feeling that unfortunately proved to be true. The Wilson-Winslet plot and the Emmerich-Haley story, though loosely tied through Wilson's character's connection to Emmerich's, almost feel as if they belong in separate films, though Emmerich and Haley's tale does resolve itself more satisfactorily than the Wilson-Winslet one does.

I don't want to sound too harsh about Little Children — even with its flaws, it's one of the better films I've seen this year and I liked it better than In the Bedroom. Winslet, as usual, turns in a great performance, and it's good to see Haley again, even if I think a lot of the praise his performance has generated can be more attributable to his comeback than to his acting itself.

Still, Field as a director really impressed me and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

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My reservations about In the Bedroom weren't based on the fact that it was "heavy and humorless" - I contrast it with something like The Sweet Hereafter, which is just as unrelentingly bleak in terms of content and style, but which held my interest from start to finish. I just felt that the pacing in Bedroom was a major problem, and the film less compelling that it could have been as a result. It clocked in at 130 minutes in length - there was a good stretch of nearly half an hour in the film's mid-section where, quite literally, nothing happened. That's where it lost me.

You didn't have much to say about the female performances in Little Children, and I'm curious to know what you thought of them. In your opinion, is the buzz for Winslet's performance warranted? Some people have also been talking up the supporting performance of Phyllis Sommerville - she's an older character actress who I think plays Haley's mother, but I'm not sure - is there anything to that?
Winslet is good, but she's certainly had better roles, especially coming on the heels of Eternal Sunshine. Somerville is good, but her role is rather small. The funniest part about Connelly is that I didn't know she was in it and at first, I kept thinking "Is that Jennifer Connelly?" She doesn't really have anything to do.
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