- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

If “Little Children” the movie is any indication, “Little Children” the book is quite funny.

The problem is that it shouldn’t be quite so easy to tell.

Director Todd Field co-wrote the screenplay for “Little Children” with Tom Perrotta, author of the critically acclaimed novel. The material is perfect for the director of 2001’s “In the Bedroom.” That film, about the repercussions for a couple of their son’s love affair, also explored the dark undercurrents of family life.

But Mr. Field seems to have gotten a little too taken with the work of Mr. Perrotta; it’s the novelist’s voice, not the director’s, that seems to permeate the film.

It’s too bad because it makes what could have been a great film merely a good one.

“Little Children” follows a group of interconnected suburbanites in East Wyndam, Mass., who, to varying degrees, haven’t grown up.

Kate Winslet, more than welcome back on the big screen after only one film credit last year, plays Sarah, a dissatisfied mother of one. She left grad school to become a housewife and clearly doesn’t fit in with the cookie-cutter Stepford Wives she meets at the playground. Her husband doesn’t provide much comfort — his addiction to Internet porn provides some needed comic relief.

Enter Brad (Patrick Wilson, “The Phantom of the Opera”), better known to the moms as “The Prom King.” With his good looks and high-school-football physique, he’s the highlight of the moms’ day. He’s just as unhappy as Sarah, with whom he soon starts an affair. Why he’d risk his relationship with wife Kathy (played by the gorgeous Jennifer Connelly) for a dalliance with the bookish Sarah might not be clear to some. But Kathy, the family’s breadwinner, is emasculating Brad — does he really need that subscription to Sports Illustrated when the budget is so tight?

Brad’s only friend is Larry (Noah Emmerich), an ex-cop who finds a channel for his aggression when a man convicted of exposing himself moves back in with his mother (Phyllis Somerville). Larry becomes obsessed with chasing Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley) out of the neighborhood.

These intersecting stories allow “Little Children” to explore love, marriage, career, violence and, most important, the relationships between parents and their children.

Mr. Field probes these topics, on the whole, with subtlety and deftness of touch — which makes the frequent voiceover from an omniscient narrator all the more unfortunate.

This narrator has a few lines good enough to justify this novelistic device. “Brad showered quickly, sensing a rare opportunity to have sex with his wife” is one.

But often it clearly isn’t needed, as when the narrator says of Sarah, “She isn’t a typical suburban woman herself.” That’s telling rather than showing, and even novelists should shy away from doing it.

By the time we hear that Miss Winslet’s character “had eyebrows thicker than Brad thought necessary” — he’s married to Miss Connelly, who by now has stolen the title of most famous eyebrows in Hollywood from Brooke Shields — the device has become completely ridiculous.

The acting here, however, never is. A particular standout is Mr. Haley, a child actor (“The Bad News Bears”) who returns this fall to the big screen after an absence of 13 years. He was a menacing strongman in “All the King’s Men.” Here he has a tough job, humanizing a character the entire town considers inhuman. He does it and then some; this man with arrested development makes the other characters realize how childishly selfish they’ve all been.


TITLE: “Little Children”

RATING: R (strong sexuality and nudity, language and some disturbing content)

CREDITS: Directed by Todd Field. Written by Mr. Field and Tom Perrotta, based on the novel by Mr. Perrotta.

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes

WEB SITE: www.littlechildrenmovie.com


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