Little Children (Field, 2006)

Co-written and directed by Todd Field, Little Children concerns itself almost entirely with white, suburban discontent, something “independent” movies have been dealing with for quite some time. The unhappy players include Kate Winslet as Sarah Pierce, a stay at home mom who’s unhappiness stems from her lack of contact with her husband and lack of enthusiasm for being a parent. Playing the male parallel to Sarah’s angst is Patrick Wilson, whose Brad Adamson has a beautiful wife (Jennifer Connelly) and a young son, but no spontaneity or excitement outside of watching a bunch of skaters do cool tricks when he’s supposed to be studying for the bar exam. After a chance meeting at a playground, Sarah and Brad begin to see a chance for a different life with each other. A side story involves Ronald McGovary (a great performance by Jackie Earle Haley) as a man just released from prison because of indecent exposure. Flyers of his face litter the streets, warning parents and children alike of his presence. Needless to say, their paths will cross.Field and cinematographer Antonio Calvacvhe meticulously devote all their attention to the emotional inadequacy of the characters involved and the unsettling feel of the environments they inhabit. We see skylines cut off at awkward angles, faces coming in and out of frame. This uneasiness expressed in the mise-en-scene filters down to the characters themselves, their living quarters bland and off kilter, their lives almost void of any passion. Field’s most effective moments are with Ronald, a man whose world has gone from incomplete to completely clear, and what he sees in the mirror frightens him greatly. His final action feels adroit and surreal, perfectly ingrained within the visual scheme he’s apart of. Sarah and Brad’s relationship, ironically taking up the most screen time, feels far too familiar and cliched to be impactful. Their revelations can only disappoint, Field left with very little to say about their different dimensions as people.The ambitious scope of Little Children marks a growth in Todd Field as a visual director, his stunning steady cam long takes a step up from his rather banal camera movement in In the Bedroom. But Little Children does not contain that film’s complex relationship between morality and revenge, or replace it with any original take on the typical suburban battlegrounds other directors like Todd Soldonz have addressed in the past. In that respect, the film’s awkward and quirky viewpoint (a strange voice over acts as an announcer of some sort) alienates as much as it’s supposed to enlighten. Field seems to be saying the artificial has overwhelmed all facets of life, from personal interactions to the medium itself. But what he doesn’t do is give any valid retort to his film’s contrived view of the world. Conveniently, or shall I say artificially, the moment of hope for both Sarah and Brad comes relatively easy and pain free, something which feels false after so much whining and suffering.

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