Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about the rest of the picture! Because no, it’s not all about how hot Winslet is, though there’s a great deal of very sensual scenes built around how desirable her character is. You see, Sarah is “not a typical suburban mom.” In fact, she’s not even a typical movie mom. “Little Children” deals with many delicate issues (pedophilia, adultery), but I think the most taboo one is the idea of a mother who might not love her kid – or at least be uncomfortable around her. Brad (Wilson) is uneasy with being a “primary caretaker” as well and all too aware that his boy much prefers being with his mom, but that’s not unusual; fathers portrayed as second-class parents is pretty much the norm on screen. But beside Julianne Moore in The Hours, I can’t remember another recent example of a film suggesting that some women might not be ready, willing and able to raise a child.
So Sarah spends her days taking her daughter to the park or the swimming pool, and it’s boring her out of her mind. Then one day, she meets Brad, who’d be a lawyer if he didn’t keep failing the Bar exam but until then, he stays at home with his son while his wife works. Coined “the Prom King” by the other mothers on the block, Brad brings some excitement, unpredictability and… “hunger” back in Sarah’s life. And what does he get out of it? Beside getting to give it good to a woman as hot as Kate Winslet (see above), there’s kind of a youth nostalgia thing going on with him, à la Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. You get the feeling that the guy is repeatedly failing the Bar on purpose, consciously or not, because he doesn’t want to become a boring, old lawyer. He’d much rather skateboard with the neighbourhood teenagers, play football like he used to in college and have an almost purely sexual relationship with someone who’s not, you know, his wife.
“Little Children” was directed by Todd Field (In the Bedroom), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Tom Perrotta, whose original novel inspired it. Perrotta also penned the book that became Election, so this gives you a vague idea of the spirit of the piece, though this isn’t as overtly satirical as Alexander Payne’s (tracy) flick. In any case, the hidden-side-of-suburbia shtick has been done to death so it’s for the better that Field doesn’t really focus on that. What he and Perrotta do is view this material from a more observational, detached angle, which is apparent in the way the film is shot and paced, and especially through the use of precisely worded voice-of-God narration, kind of like in Lars von Trier’s USA trilogy.
Another title that’s a close relative is Happiness, with that suburbia-is-fucked-up shtick, a depressed Jane Adams still stuck dating weirdoes and last but not least, in its not altogether negative portrayal of a sex offender, which also calls to mind “The Woodsman”, “Que Dieu Bénisse l’Amérique” and “The Big Lebowski” (“8 year-olds, Dude.”). In other words, we’ve been there before, but the affecting performances by Jackie Earle Haley as the molester, Phyllis Somerville as his caring mother and even Noah Emmerich in the not that subtle part of a self-righteous ex-cop who’s harassing them (hmm, wonder if he’s got skeletons in the closet of his own) make it work. Likewise, I wasn’t too crazy about how easily dismissed the spouses were (Brad’s wife is an emasculating ice queen, Sarah’s husband is addicted to Internet porn) and about the schematic yet open ending(s), but Winslet and Wilson are so good that they take you through the little plot kinks and you still leave the theater moved by their affair. And did I mention how hot Kate is in this?