Set in a surburban setting populated by stepford-esque wives and equally particular husbands, Little Children expresses the feeling of isolation and what we become when our own sense of worth is no longer satisfied.
Sarah (Kate Winslet), a former academic who never finished her PhD in English Literature is now a reluctant housewife, tending to a child she bears no real attachment to and a husband who masturbates to pornography that even he himself is subpar. Brad (Patrick Wilson), a former college football player and aspiring lawyer who has repeatedly failed his bar exams, is relegated to playing primary caregiver for he and wife Kathy’s (Jennifer Connelly) young son. Early on both characters meet in the local park, where a inopportune kiss results in a complicated relationship. Running parallel to this is the story of disgraced police officer Larry (Noah Emmerich) with whom Brad plays football and is on a crusade against the recently paroled sex offender Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley).
With a VoiceOver that both sets apart and defines the cast, Todd Field’s direction and adaptation of the Tom Perrotta novel avoids the mere recording of facts, deftly highlighting the suffocation each feels without resorting to time-intensive conversations in the beginning and later, furthering and solidifying what we come to learn about them.
A subtle sense of surrealism pervades the piece and no more so than it this one central element, pointing out the absurdity and bittersweet comedy in everyday life.
Each character attempts their own miniature act of rebellion, seeking to undo the pain they feel, constantly fearful that it’s not enough. With honest acting, never elaborate or overtly pretentious, there is a genuine tenderness, an awkward attraction that is impossible not to find endearing. One becomes emotionally invested in characters that might not otherwise elicit the most basic of sympathies. So much is left to facial expressions, a twitch of the eyebrow, a smile, an inflection in a person’s voice. The actors deftly explain more about themselves than the narrator or any monologue could.
Although it is by no means a perfect portrayal of suburban life, Field’s and his cast have created a wonderful microcosm of eccentricities and depth, few others have been capable of matching.