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Little Children (2006)

March 4, 2010

4/10 Baby Daddies

Like watching two movies at the same time and only one of them is good.

Little Children is about a suburban wife with a failing marriage and a child she can’t relate to, a suburban husband who’s a child at heart and can’t live up the adult responsibilities that’s expected of him by his wife, and a convicted sex offender who moves back into town with his mother after exposing himself to a local kid. Through a strange course of events, the suburban wife and the suburban husband strike up an affair, try to realize through each other the lives they could have had, and the sex offender works (poorly) to settle back into society while getting harassed up the wahzoo by a former cop.

Yeah, there’s too much going on in this movie. Wish I could write up a shorter synopsis, but that’s as brief as it’s gonna get with this one.

Anyway, Little Children is the sophomore effort by writer/director Todd Field, who got his big break back in ’01 with the effing phenomenal movie In the Bedroom. Five years down the road, I don’t know what happened, but this follow-up doesn’t quite measure up.

It starts out strong enough by establishing two interesting and morally immature characters who are looking to break out of the shells they’ve grown into in a very Lester Burnham-like fashion along with one character who’s seriously flawed and shrouded in mystery. I dug it, I wanted to learn more, but the more I learned about these first two hippies, the more unfocused their stories became. By the time everything got resolved at the end, my interest in the lives of these two-timing suburbanites had waned to the point of complete indifference, which was a bummer, but thankfully the same wasn’t true for our friendly neighborhood kiddie flasher. But I’ll get to that in a second…

The real culprit that led to Little Children‘s failure was Field’s decision to the throw an omniscient narrator into the mix.

The problem with the omniscient narrator is that the minute he started talking, all I wanted was for him to shut the hell up. Having someone tell you what every character is feeling and thinking throughout the whole movie rather than just letting their actions do the talking comes off not only as gratingly pointless, but also as a kind of slap in the face to the viewer. I mean, isn’t that the whole point of casting good actors in a movie, so that you don’t need a gimmick to explain to your audience what’s going on every second?

To make matters worse, whenever the O. N. isn’t spelling out every bit of subtlety for you – you know, just in case you missed it, dumbass – the characters themselves tap in and take on the role for him. There’s this one scene where the husband and wife combo are going at it in the attic – which is usually not the best time to strike up a conversation about anything at all – and right in the middle of things, the husband starts going on about, “Do you feel bad? ‘Cause I do. I feel really bad.”

You do? Whoa! Where the hell did that come from? Couldn’t tell that from the guilty look that’s permanently tattooed on your face and the million other subtle tells that cheaters usually give off when they lie to their spouse about banging the chick next door. You, sir, would make a fine poker player.

I don’t know why Field thought this was a good idea, but it is so effing stupid and annoying that it ruins something that could have been much, much better had there just been no God-like presence telling the story to us like he’s reading a book. Doesn’t help either that the resolution for this plotline is totally ridiculous and doesn’t redeem things whatsoever, regardless of the narrator.

Then again, the storyline with the sex offender is great. It plays off like In The Bedroom mixed with The Woodsman and it’s about the one thing about this movie that really works. The narrator is gone, his story is the most compelling of the bunch, and Jackie Earle Haley got robbed of an Oscar for his turn as Ronnie McGorvey. Granted, Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson (dude would make a great serial killer a la Patrick Bateman) are really good in their respective roles, but Haley runs away with this one. So convincingly troubled…how Alan Arkin got the award that year, I will never know.

The thing with Little Children is that if it were just about Haley, it would be great, and if it were just about Winslet and Wilson, I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt and thinking it would also be better. But that’s not movie we have and together, it feels confused. Field sure knows how to work a camera, and he obviously knows how to write one hell of a script, but it’s never a good thing when the story that takes up three quarters of your running time is a silly mess.

Not sure what happened, but here’s to hoping he hits it out the park with Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2010 5:06 am

    I’d have to say I disagree quite a bit. This is one of my favorite films, and I’d agree with RT when they say, ‘Little Children takes a penetrating look at suburbia and its flawed individuals with an unflinching yet humane eye.’

    • March 4, 2010 8:31 am

      I call mutiny.

      I don’t know man, Winslet and Wilson’s story was good for a while, it’s just the way it was told and the way that it ended that ruined it for me. Good RT summary though, agree with that for the most part, still doesn’t garner a Fresh rating.

  2. March 4, 2010 7:11 am

    yeah, would like to see this one, really like Patrick Wilson, he made Watchmen uh, Watchable

  3. March 4, 2010 7:26 am

    I disagree as well, as i quite liked it and certainly liked the way the stories gently overlapped.

    Funny thing though – what I always think of when I remember this movie is going to see it at The Toronto International Film Festival. When I got to the theatre, I must have looked a little bit lost. A helpful volunteer came over and asked me “Are you here for little children?”

    To which the smartass in me could only reply “I’m just here to watch a movie lady”.

    • March 4, 2010 8:22 am

      hhahaha. I’ll overlook this mutiny that’s once again arising thanks to this awesome little anecdote. Sharp as a whip there, Hatter.

  4. March 4, 2010 11:40 am

    I’ll agree with most of the commenters here and say that I absolutely loved this movie. Everything that you seemed to have a problem with was exactly what I loved about it.

    The narrator didn’t bother me. In fact, I loved it.

    Plus I’m the kind of person that sees the sick kind of humor in this kind of movie. What a brilliant satire.

    • March 4, 2010 12:53 pm

      Hahaha, I seem to be in the minority on this one. Couldn’t get past the narrator, man. Different strokes for different folks ya know.

  5. March 4, 2010 11:43 am

    Hatter, that is hilarious.
    When going to the cinema to see last year’s Sean Penn starring biopic, I was tempted to ask, ‘got Milk?’
    alas, i didnt have the balls

  6. mcarteratthemovies permalink
    March 4, 2010 1:47 pm

    I went the opposite way. I usually hate omniscient narrators, but I think it worked quite well for “Little Children” because Will Lyman perfectly captured the tone of the book — wry, observant, a little bitter.

    The scene you mention, the one of the “oh, I feel bad” moment, is taken directly from the book, and I’d agree that it works better on paper than on the screen. Tom Perrotta gives it a better humor in the book.

    But I AM glad you agree that Haley was held up for that Oscar. Damn he was powerful and damn the Academy didn’t care.

  7. Branden permalink
    March 4, 2010 4:22 pm

    I guess, you are the Debbie Downer on this one, Aiden. I loved this movie as well. In fact, it was my number one film of 2006. I agree with you that Haley should have won the Oscar that year.

    I thought it was a fascinating look at suburbia told through the voice-over guy from PBS.

    The only thing I thought was bad about the movie was the ending. I hated the ending. It was a real letdown, but I chalked it up to stupidity on some of the characters.

    • March 5, 2010 1:50 am

      I was sitting here for a while trying to figure out how I was going to word my reply. Then I read yours and saw you said everything I wanted to say.

  8. March 4, 2010 5:30 pm

    Wher does M. get the time to read all these books before seeing the movie??? I’m jealous!
    I just rewatched this last month and I’m with everybody else on this one, Aiden. I love Little Children (that reads really bad)! Your review had me more shocked than that chick in the car was when she looked over and saw Haley tuggin’ on it. I love the Voice Over. To me, it felt like a Narrator from a Disney wildlife Doc. I thought it gave it a new and fresh feel and perspective.
    I’m also happy to see Haley doing so much and ressurecting a dead career… doing very well at it too. You gotta love the Baddest of the Bad News Bears!!!!!

    • March 4, 2010 5:36 pm

      I’ll be the first one to get on the JEH bandwagon and he rocks it here (he’s always rocked it), but like I said, it’s the fuckin’ narrator, man. Can’t win ’em all, dude.


  9. March 4, 2010 6:32 pm

    The only time an omniscent narrator has worked for me is The Assassination of Jesse James.

    • March 4, 2010 6:38 pm

      Haven’t seen it, but thanks for being the one person who agrees with me. You’re alright, Fitz.

      • March 4, 2010 7:55 pm

        Thanks. But if you haven’t seen Jesse James that’s got to be at the top of your queue.

  10. March 4, 2010 9:09 pm

    Great write-up! I haven’t seen this for myself yet (been in my Netflix queue for months now), but I’ll definitely keep your comments in mind when I eventually do watch it.

  11. Audrey permalink
    March 4, 2010 11:39 pm

    Fred backs Aiden up 110% on this one.

  12. March 5, 2010 2:50 am

    How bout props for nothing more than getting to see Winslett’s boobies? Holla!!! 🙂

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