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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Little Children Movie Review

It is hard to figure out where to start discussing Little Children.

It is easy enough to say that it is the best American film of 2006 to date, since it is.

To say that this film is one of the great sophomore efforts of all time (by director/co-writer Todd Field) is no overstatement. And to write that Tom Perrotta is fortunate that this only the second film made from one of his books, since seven years after Election this is one of the few films worthy of being a successor to that unexpected achievement, would be fair, but too easy.

One could easily assert that Little Children is the film that Ang Lee and Alan Ball and Robert Redford and Paul Thomas Anderson and even Woody Allen have been trying to make for a long time. (Allen had the most success with the magnificent Crimes & Misdemeanors.) Others, like Alejandro Inarritu and Steven Soderbergh and Alexander Payne and Cameron Crowe and Jim Brooks and the Coen Brothers are working on similar canvases, but are too interested in entertaining to go somewhere quite this dry and relentless (though they often come close and achieve greatness on different levels). I love me some Malick, but he wants to let the wind blow through our hair and to allow us to reflect on ourselves even as we watch his movies. In England & Ireland, Jim Sheridan and Alan Parker and Neil Jordan and Mike Leigh have gone here and have probably come closer to this work in defining their cultures than American filmmakers previously have. But the one filmmaker whose voice is clear and clean in Little Children, aside from Todd Field, is Stanley Kubrick’s. This is not an imitation (in spite of some very specific steals), but Field’s breathed in and assimilated extension of The Master’s Voice.

But I still haven’t told you much about the movie.

As much as I want to offer an easy description of the film, it’s not a possibility. Confirming that is New Line’s terrific, but narrow, trailer for the movie. They decided, understandably, to focus on “The Affair” in the film. But man, I am here to tell you… it’s just the appetizer.

I keep finding myself singing Pete Seeger’s “Little Boxes,” currently enjoying renewed fame as the theme song of Showtime’s first great non-niche series, Weeds, to myself when I think of this film…

“Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.

There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.”

There is something about the light heart behind that song and the simple understanding of human nature that connects to the film for me (much more than the TV series, actually). We are not all the same. And none of us is all that different. We are all made of the same ticky-tacky.

In Little Children’s case, “we” are stay-at-home mothers and stay-at-home-fathers and working moms and working dads and convicted sex offenders and the mothers of convicted sex offenders and cops and the handicapped and the emotionally handicapped and neighbors and of course, lots of little children of many different ages.

We are all so unique. We are all so different. Our decision-making is so inevitably passionate and so inevitably rational.

This is the remarkable power of Little Children. And, make no mistake, it will take a lot of people more than a moment to get used to that power.

The film is very, very funny, but audiences are afraid to laugh at a lot of the humor. After all, how funny are cheating and perversion and mean-spiritedness and outright stupidity? Very funny. But it’s a Kubrickian humor… tough and more than a little shocking.

One of the devices is a rather unexpected voiceover that is at first discomfiting, but which clarifies its value as it continues. (The familiar voice is Will Lyman, who does the voiceovers for Frontline on PBS… which, not so coincidentally, is the network the film’s Kathy makes docs for.) But Todd Field keeps the voiceover (which is almost all directly out of the Perrotta book) within its own realm. It has a sense of humor, but it never falls into comedy.

The most talked about element of the film will be the convicted sex offender with a proclivity for little children. But anyone who would call it “that child molester movie” would be simplifying beyond reason. The character, played by Jackie Earle Haley, comes home to his mother, played by the amazing Phyllis Somerville. (She should be Oscar bait. Breathtaking work.) And this character is so complex and real that it really stands up there with some of the greats. This man knows what he is and he knows what he isn’t. And he struggles. And his mother struggles. And as tough as it is to watch at times without wincing, its truth is profound.

Winslet rarely misses. And her turn here is layered in ways you can’t imagine even as you watch it. She plays a character who thinks she knows her parameters… but until they are challenged, she doesn’t. This probably should be her Oscar winner.

Patrick Wilson is surprisingly right in his role. Some have suggested that he is a little too much the character… a little too easy to understand. But I think it is daring to be that open.

And the most underappreciated performance in those three fronting leads will surely be Jennifer Connelly’s. But it really is one of her best ever. She plays The Perfect Woman. But as we all know, no one really is perfect. And while we never get too much range from the character, Connelly breathes her in a daring and unselfish way that I really admired. It’s one of those roles that feels so real that people won’t realize how structured a performance it is.

Todd Field has made a big step as a director here. He has taken his In The Bedroom skills and his passion for Kubrick and added his own twists of style and skill. There isn’t a shot in the movie that feels wrong. Whether it’s a table scene with four characters who are each in a completely different place emotionally or a scene underwater meant to force/allow us to see through the eyes of a sex offender or a satirical take on football, Field uses the whole toolbox with assurance and detail. And any time you get the feeling that maybe he got the wrong performance out of someone, the reason why it is perfection is right around the corner.

Little Children is the first American masterpiece of 2006. We’ll be chewing on this one for a long time to come.

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“We don’t have any idea what the universe is. Wise people have always told us that this is proof you shouldn’t think, because thinking leads you nowhere. You just build over this huge construction of misunderstanding, which is culture. The history of culture is the history of the misunderstandings of great thinkers. So we always have to go back to zero and begin differently. And maybe in that way you have a chance not to understand but at least not to have further misunderstandings. Because this is the other side of this question—Am I really so brave to cancel all human culture? To stop admiring the beauty in human production? It’s very difficult to say no.”
~ László Krasznahorkai

“I have a license to carry in New York. Can you believe that? Nobody knows that, [Applause] somebody attacks, somebody attacks me, oh, they’re gonna be shot. Can you imagine? Somebody says, oh, it is Trump, he’s easy pickings what do you say? Right? Oh, boy. What was the famous movie? No. Remember, no remember where he went around and he sort of after his wife was hurt so badly and kill. What?  I — Honestly, Yeah, right, it’s true, but you have many of them. Famous movie. Somebody. You have many of them. Charles Bronson right the late great Charles Bronson name of the movie come on.  , remember that? Ah, we’re gonna cut you up, sir, we’re gonna cut you up, uh-huh.

Bing!

One of the great movies. Charles Bronson, great, Charles Bronson. Great movies. Today you can’t make that movie because it’s not politically correct, right? It’s not politically correct. But could you imagine with Trump? Somebody says, oh, all these big monsters aren’t around he’s easy pickings and then shoot.”
~ Donald Trump