Rating: B+/ So, is the movie called Little Children because the sex offender played by Jackie Earle Haley has a thing for little children or because all the adult characters in the movie act like little children, self-obsessed and bickering? The jury’s still out on that. While the main plotline concerning extramarital affairs and upper-class ennui in an affluent suburban neighborhood is dark and distressing enough, I found the subplot following a child abuser and exhibitionist moving into his mothers’ house after being released from prison (the superior thread by far) absolutely harrowing. Did this movie really make me feel compassion for a guy who gets his kicks flashing his weenie at little kids? What does that say about the film’s aptitude for puzzling moral ambiguity? Moreover, what does it say about me?
Little Children is not a feel-good movie. It provides no easy explanations for the behavior it depicts. It’s a film propelled by it’s amazing performances, not it’s ability to entertain. I have to admit, I was a little thrown off by the omnipresent voice-over that pervaded through the first forty-five minutes or so. I’ll be honest, I didn’t like it at all. It was a lot like a book, and not in a good way. Films should rely on visual cues in order to explain the subtleties of their story; at least that’s what I think. The exposition was just too much. I think it would have done better without these moments, personally. But it didn’t ruin the overall experience for me.
Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) is bored with her role as mother to a demanding little girl (Sadie Goldstein) and wife to a husband (Gregg Edelman) with a disturbingly hilarious addiction to internet porn. She is an outcast within the town group of suburban moms, mostly because she thinks for herself in the midst of so much cattle-like conformity. When Sarah meets Brad (Patrick Wilson,) former football hero and stay-at-home dad pressed under the thumb of his controlling wife (Jennifer Connelly,) they feel a certain electricity between them, but they are bound to their spouses and their respective roles in their households. But if you know these kinds of movies, you know these two will be playing ‘hide the sausage’ before the film’s credits roll.
A subplot involves Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley,) a scarcely seen and much-talked about proclaimed menace to the neighborhood and convicted exhibitionist. Ronnie lives with his doting mother (Phyllis Sommerville) after a stay in prison for exposing himself to kids and his mama thinks if only she can get him set up with a good woman his predilections will cure themselves. Ronnie tries to stay out of trouble and be ‘a good boy’ as per Mama’s wishes, but the shit from his past is liable to catch up with him sooner or later, emphasis on ‘sooner.’
When Ronnie gets in the public pool, the families run out like he is the sufferer of an incurable, grotesque disease which their children will get if they don’t flee the premises; a mentally unstable ex-cop (Noah Emmerich) harasses Ronnie and his mother and spray-paints their front walk. It all seems a little much, especially since Ronnie’s crimes appear to fall short of actual molestation and rape, but who knows how far people would go to protect their children from a perceived threat?
This plotline and Jackie Earle Haley’s performance was absolutely chilling. In Ronnie, he creates a predator with a deft touch of humanity,; we feel for this guy, even when he outs himself to a blind date (Jane Adams) is the most disgusting way possible, and we hate ourselves for our weakness. He is the incarnation of the fears we have for our children, a fleshing-out of a faceless societal ill, yet we learn, somehow, to have sympathy for the Devil, as well as his demons.
The stories of Ronnie and Sarah predictably intersect, as the characters get a wake-up call and start to sort out their conflicting needs and desires (except for Ronnie, who’s conclusion is a tragic one.) For the first time in her life, Sarah begins to act like a grown-up, and maybe that’s where the title of the movie really comes from, not Ronnie’s predilection for minors.
The acting in the movie is outstanding, from the stars like Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson (Oh, how I got a laugh out of the filmmaker trying to depict Winslet as ‘dowdy’ and unappealing) to the more minor players. If you want a popcorn movie, avoid this one like the plague. However, if you like tremendous acting and a storyline that actually makes you think about the human condition, this is the movie for you. Just be sure to expect a disturbing, visceral experience. This is not a movie you will soon forget.