Little Children Review

Opening with a group of suburban mothers gossiping in the park, its soon clear that Sarah (Winslet) does not quite fit the mould. She is, by the other mothers’ standards, a bit slapdash. She forgets the all-important mid-morning snack; she fails to instantly respond to her daughter Lucy’s (Sadie Goldstein) edvery need. She is, frankly, bored. All of the mums perk up when Brad (Wilson), a handsome househusband and father, whom they have dubbed the Prom King, arrives. Sarah approaches him, initially as much to shock the others as for any other reason, but as the summer goes on she engineers a meeting, and then another, and soon they embark on a passionate affair.

Sarah is not Brad’s only extra-curricular activity. He also plays touch football with a team headed by Larry (Emmerich), an ex-cop turned vigilante. Larry is outraged by the fact that a convicted paedophile, Ronnie (Haley) has been released back into the community, and takes it upon himself to make sure that the neighbourhood is well warned. If that means waking up not only Ronnie, but also his elderly mother (Somerville) and their entire street at 2 in the morning, well, that’s what Larry is prepared to do.

And as the long hot summer continues, and Brad and Sarah’s affair deepens, the tension grows.

Todd Field’s follow up to 2001’s In The Bedroom is a well-observed witty and finally devastating portrayal of suburban anxiety which will resonate with audiences everywhere. Winslet is superb as Sarah, a second wife, a grad school dropout who seems deeply confused and uncertain about how she has ended up in this place. Her confusion is embodied in her house; she hasn’t redecorated any of it except one tidy study where she retreats as if she was still writing her dissertation. She and Brad both live lives of untold privilege founded on someone else’s industry – he is married to the stunning Kathy (Connelly) an award-winning documentary film-makers who holds the purse strings, questions his need for a cell phone and seems more interested in her career and her son than in her failed lawyer husband, despite his undoubted beauty. Brad is a new man, and a good father, but his masculinity is undoubtedly compromised; his choice of Sarah is a definite up yours to his beautiful wife. There is even a scene where he compares their looks, concluding that Sarah’s aren’t a patch on Kathy’s, but that she is there, emotionally available to him, supporting him, in a way that Kathy is not.

(Speaking of looks, hurrah for Kate Winslet for the nude scenes. She looks great, she’s clearly been working out, but she looks like a woman, she looks like she’s breast-fed a baby, she looks like a real person. She spends a lot of the film in a red swimming costume, and like a real person she’s usually got a sarong or some sort of shirt over it and she orders the costume with the tummy control panel.)

Much will be made of the paedophile sub-plot, which becomes the locus of the community’s anxieties, but its extremely well handled, simply asking the question, what must it be like to be a paedophile? To be a paedophile’s loving mother, only wanting her son to be happy. Jackie Earle Haley is excellent as Ronnie, alternatively sympathetic and repellent – it helps that we never know exactly what Ronnie was convicted for, but we can see that he is not the embodiment of evil. More generally, the film looks at the malaise of affluence – all that money and no real happiness – and the hypocrisy at the heart of the suburban model. Sarah makes the subtext text at book group (very Oprah, very now); she passionately defends Madame Bovary decision to embark on adulterous affair: it made her feel alive.

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