Little Interest in Little Children

I was really looking forward to seeing the film, Little Children, because it promised no car chases, hardly any violence and mercifully, no special effects.

Just a fascinating insight into suburban life. One critic, Des Partridge, even referred to it as a black comedy. It was black all right, but not amusing.

What it delivered, though, is an ensemble piece of fine acting which was half an hour too long for a film that seemed to have lost its way and with it my attention.

There’s no character in the film who is not suffering from some psychological problem and I half expected the family pet to be angst-ridden as well, but there was no family pet, which was a surprising absence in this suburban setting.

From the outset it was annoyingly obvious that the film was based on a novel. One could visualise the writer’s quill as the narrator explained what was going on.

It’s questionable whether the narration added anything to the production, since it seemed to act like a Greek chorus, commenting here and there, as if the audience was too dumb to understand, what essentially was a simple story about people who are bored and frustrated with their lives.

Now there’s an original theme!

Throw in a recently released paedophile who is probably the most sympathetic of all the roles and you have a prolonged denouement where the characters simply don’t make much sense.

The plot revolves around two disaffected suburbanites, housewife, Sarah (Kate Winslet) and house-husband, Brad (Patrick Wilson) who meet in a playground.

Sarah’s repulsive husband is into internet porn while, shock horror, Brad’s wife is too hard-working. Brad is lonely as well as being lazy and so paid work doesn’t appeal to him. So it’s just as well that his wife is prepared to support him, which makes her too tired to pander to him.

Perhaps I expect too much logic from the producers who seem hung up on overexplaining why these two people have to escape from their marriages.

Instead of flowing in a logical sequence out of something that occurred previously the scenes appear to be too contrived.

Take the scene where the two main characters decide to run away together, for example. Sarah and Brad have been meeting during the day when their spouses are at work. So why on Earth do they decide to make their escape at night when their spouses are home?

In case you didn’t pick up on Sarah’s unhappiness in her marriage we bring in a book club discussion on Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” which explains it in some detail to us, the dumb audience.

Yep, she’s miserable all right and we suspect that she’ll stay that way. In the end, we don’t even care.

There’s no denying that the acting is excellent. Jackie Earle Haley as, Ronnie the sex offender, is outstanding and he deserves an award.

Phyllis Somerville who has the harrowing role as Ronnie’s mother, is touching. And for Frasier fans, it’s wonderful to see the former Dr Mel Karmosky (Jane Adams) acting in such a different role.

Winslet is very good as the miserable Sarah, but the actors are let down by a screenplay that rambles on and fails to make sense.

There are some films that linger in the mind because they touch on emotions or thoughts and leave you wanting more. Little Children is not one of those

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2 thoughts on “Little Interest in Little Children

  1. I just read the book and broadly agree with what you say about the contrivances and lack of interest in the plot and characters. The book was worthwhile for its writing and humour, but not in a way that would translate well to film; perhaps the good acting in the film is a substitute. The book is actually relatively short (in this time of bloated novels) and, more importantly, made the wise choice of ending without any conclusion as to the ultimate fate of any of the characters, i.e. it covered the characters’ decision to change their lives, but not the consequences of their decision (which would have been much less interesting.)

    (On the ‘nighttime’ escape: In the book, at least, this was explained by the daytime presence of Todd’s mother-in-law, but I agree that the denouement – involving simultaneous crucial events in the lives of all characters – was ridiculous.)

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  2. Not having read the book I can’t comment on it but as you say similar weaknesses seem to be in the film. The whole thing just didn’t gel. My opinion, though, is not supported by other reviewers. The simultaneous crucial events remind me of The Gunfight at the OK Corral” where every one turns up for the final shootout–a legitimate vehicle for a Western, but not for this kind of film. When one has to depend on coincidence it has to be extremely plausible and this finale isn’t.

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