Saturday, October 21, 2006

Desperate Housewife: Kate Winslet and Her Adult Cast Amaze as “Little Children”

Everyone remembers being a child. Life was so carefree and simple. You basically got to do whatever you wanted. Go to the playground to have fun with other kids. Sleeping time so you could get reenergized. But let’s not forget the bullying because let’s face it: children are children. And in Todd Field’s new film “Little Children” we learn that even adults can be children. Kate Winslet is Sarah, a young housewife with a young daughter. Sarah brings her daughter to the park every weekday to play with the other kids, even though she can’t stand the other annoying moms. And while the children are gleefully cavorting about, their mothers are acting even more childish than their offspring. We’re then introduced to the lone, attractive stay-at-home dad whom these desperate housewives refer to as the Prom King. He is really Brad (Patrick Wilson) who’s married to Kathy (Jennifer). They have a young son. And we get the feeling right away that perhaps Sarah and Brad will be doing some playing of their own.

Director Todd Field is an actor’s director. This is because he is an actor (Unfortunately, I really only know him as one of the storm chasers in “Twister”). His only other feature film is the Academy Award nominated “In the Bedroom,” where he displayed a brilliant knack for getting extremely good performances from his stars (Three of whom were Oscar nominated). He manages to again wring remarkable performances from everyone in “Little Children.” Winslet is simply suburb as a young suburban mother. There’s no hint whatsoever that she really has a British accent. Wilson also amazes. With every film he does he improves. He’s a far cry from the stageyness he displayed a few years back in the film version of “The Phantom of the Opera.” But of course that’s because he’s a Broadway veteran. And Connelly makes the best of her smaller role as Brad’s too busy wife, who just might be starting to suspect something.

A wry suburban satire, which was previously a novel written by “Election” scribe Tom Perrotta, (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Field) children focuses on Sarah and Brad and how they quickly and humorously form a public friendship because they both have young children. This quickly turns into a very private sexual relationship that they both really want but aren’t altogether prepared for. Sarah’s husband is a distant and rather cold man, who is a fan of Internet porn. Brad’s wife Kathy is an extremely busy documentary filmmaker. It’s a longing for something different and perhaps something better that brings these two people together. The film, which has the structure, look, and aura of a deep, tragic melodrama, is actually punctuated with extremely funny and well-placed humor. The humor isn’t as obvious or as present as in let’s say “American Beauty” but it fits the film extremely well. The voice over narration, which seemed odd at first, actually suits the movie (its read as if this were a child's bedtime story) and adds to the character’s underlying motivations.

Put into the mix a subplot about Ronnie, a local sexual predator being released back into society played by the original Bad News Bears’ Jackie Earle Haley. It’s just simply amazing how the film approaches everything about this man who is treated as a full fledged human being (by the filmmaker, not the film’s characters) and fully realized character and how all the adults in the film treat him. It’s as if they are all bullies on the playground. A scene in which Ronnie shows up at the public pool is extremely funny and downright heartrending all at once. Then we have Brad’s ex-cop friend Larry (Noah Emmerich) who is the worst of all. He constantly appears on the man’s front lawn at odd hours of night with a bullhorn shouting to the neighbors about the pervert who should be locked up. It’s interesting how this storyline and Sarah and Brad’s all come to an end. Especially since the film is constantly building and building. And an ending that could have had a million possibilities makes the most sense.

This film is engaging, well made and extremely deep. It’s a film that can be analyzed to death yet extremely entertaining. Field brings an audacity to the film that just simply makes it sparkle. He never lets the humor break the emotional tension. And he never let’s the mature subject matter get in the way of the humor. The film has so much to say about how sometimes adults just never grow up and are sometimes less mature then their own kids. This is a film that turns the mundane suburban life into thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile experience. GRADE: A