Writer/director Todd Field follows up his Academy Award nominated 2001 film, In the Bedroom, with a much more accessible entry. Field’s 2006 Academy Award nominated film, Little Children, is a movie that manages to prove it is possible be artistic and entertaining all at once. It’s part drama, part satire, and determined to have an impact.
The story, told by an omniscient narrator, revolves around two unhappily married people, Sarah and Brad, who don’t exactly fit in with suburban life, They spend their summer days in the parks with their children, which is where the pair become acquainted. This meeting sets off a spark between them. They both yearn for something new and different and the thought of a secret, forbidden love is enthralling so it all boils over into a steamy affair. Meanwhile, a convicted paedophile recently released from prison has just moved into the neighborhood, and is met with vindictive responses and angry protest. Is the man a monster, or are these people too quick to judge? Together these stories will run their course, but these lives are on a collision course.
The performances are crucially important to the film because they contribute to the moral ambiguity of the characters. Every actor brings their best to the table and carries the story in their actions. Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson, for example, make their characters human and appealing enough that it complicates our responses to their often dubious behaviour. Similarly, Jennifer Connelly, who has only a minor role as Brad’s wife Kathy, provides the sharp edged, controlling character but is ultimately sympathetic. Noah Emmerich (as the neighborhood’s lead vigilante) and Phyllis Somerville (as Ronnie’s mother) are also very good in vital supporting roles. More than anything else, In the Bedroom had established Field as a director of actors, and Little Children will further strengthen that reputation.
The film has a wonderful, almost fantastical imagery, which again serves as a juxtaposition to its somewhat dark subject matter. As a continuation of this trend and in keeping with the title, the script allows the characters to talk with an almost childish innocence which compliments the deadpan narration much like a children’s storybook. This is somewhat playful and provides the comic relief in the more awkward scenes. Field lights his sets with a minimalism and softness which is reminiscent of the director’s previous work. But what Field does best in terms of style is his use of arrangement. From the opening static montage shots of porcelain figures and clocks we know we’re in for an extremely interestingly film set-up – and indeed, we are treated to many very aesthetic and interestingly composed frames throughout the film, and in all, the film is gorgeously shot.
The movie slowly, piece by piece, becomes more gripping as everyone’s lives become more desperate and tangled. Given the setting and plot, it holds many similarities to the likes of ‘Desperate Housewives’ except the narrative has more maturity. I strongly recommend this thought-provoking drama / black comedy to anyone looking for a well- crafted character study. Little Children doesn’t have any big explosion, graphic violence or excessive action. It relies purely on the effect it has upon its audience, which remains a definite profound one.