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USA 2006
Directed by
Todd Field
130 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
5 stars

Little Children

Synopsis: Against the backdrop of a community campaign to drive a sex-offender from the neighbourhood, two sets of young marrieds with children find their lives entwining as playground friendships grow into much darker things.

Little Children is aptly named, there's not a single adult on display in this incredibly funny and sad evisceration of the illusions people maintain about themselves. Brad (Patrick Wilson) is known as "The Prom King" by the women down at the local playground. They were relieved when he didn't show up for a few weeks, the pressure of wearing makeup and worrying over what to wear was exhausting them. Sarah (Kate Winslet) is on the outer of this little group and shocks them all by kissing him after their first conversation. Just a little joke to shock the women, to prove that she's above them. But the kiss reminds them both of the lack of fulfillment in their lives.

Sarah's husband Richard (Gregg Edelman) is addicted to internet porn. So when she discovers his secret, the desire for Brad overrides and soon she and Brad are engaged in a full-blown affair. Brad is also unhappy with his life. His wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) rules over him, but makes little time for him and is obsessed over their son, who she doesn't see a lot of as she works while he looks after him. He feels bad for betraying her, but he won't stop either.

Thrown into this mix is Ronnie (Jackie Earl Hayley), a recently released sex-offender the community has rallied against. He knows he's deeply disturbed, but he can't stop himself. The only adult on display here is his mother, who loves him and wishes he were different, but knows deep down that he isn't. She still loves him, but there's not a lot she can do for him besides that. By the end of the film, the weight of that love drives Ronnie to extreme ends to be deserving of it.

Some films show the need to be true to ourselves, to pursue our own goals or risk dying inside. This film shows the cost of not considering others when doing this. Selfishness is not self-fulfillment, and it is deeply sad to bear witness to it. But there's a surprise. The film should be horrific and tragic. It deals in dark and nasty things; nobody is good, and nobody comes off looking better than anyone else. But instead of a brooding and melancholy story of human frailty, we get a beautiful and sad comedy that is remarkably warm and human. The film obviously loves its characters, even as it mocks their delusions via a laconic narrator, unnamed and uncredited. The beauty of the language, the casual and cutting description of the people in this near-anthropological study is haunting. It is the narration that draws out the ideas and themes, and provides the insights that suggest that, in the end, what's done is done, but the future is still full of hope. Little Children is about the lies we tell ourselves, and the ways we risk our safety and the safety of those we love for them. It is deeply satisfying and heartfelt. For something that delves into such dark places to have such a sense of hope is a rare trick. There should be more films like this.




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