The lives of stay-at-home parents, the drama which exists beneath the peaceful surface of suburban life, and the contrasts between an ideal life and the reality of life are just some of the themes explored by ‘Little Children’. In similar fashion to his previous film ‘In The Bedroom’, director Todd Field delivers an intimate portrait of ordinary life with deep respect for his characters and free from judgement.
‘Little Children’ revolves around the lives of two married couples and the connections built between the two families. Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) is unhappy with her life and the way it revolves around caring for her daughter Lucy. Compounding her sense of isolation is the frustration caused by the inattention of her husband Richard (Gregg Edelman). Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson) is a stay-at-home dad feeling like the third wheel in the relationship shared by his wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) and son Aaron. Failing several attempts to pass the bar exam, Brad is trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life.
Sarah and Brad feel trapped in their lives and are both struggling to preserve that part of themselves which makes them feel alive. The pair first meet at the local playground and find themselves wanting to spend more time in eachother’s company. The relationship soon develops into two distinct parts, one innocent friendship shown in public and another unspoken to the world and pursued only behind closed doors.
Further disruption to the calm life of suburbia comes in the form of Ronnie McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley) who moves into the neighbourhood after his release from prison for indecent exposure.
The lives of all the main players are revealed against the backdrop of every day community settings – in the playground, at the local pool, on the football field, and of course in the home. The ordinary nature of these environments contrast perfectly with the heightened human emotions being experienced by the characters.
Performances of the entire cast are natural and entirely believable. Kate Winslet is once again sublime and captures perfectly the frustrations of being primary caregiver to a child and the longing for escape. Without the chemistry evident between her and co-star Patrick Wilson, the film would simply not work. Jennifer Connelly has never looked more beautiful on-screen and she delivers a perfect portrait of wife-in-control Kathy. The performance of Jackie Earle Haley as unwanted neighbourhood newcomer Ronnie McGorvey feels very real and is both disturbing and tragic.
‘Little Children’ captures intimate moments and hidden thoughts with extreme delicacy, but does not shy away from confronting us with the darker side of human nature. Aside from what we see unfold before us, clever use of narration also progresses the plot and reveals further character emotions and motivations.
It can be easy to forget that children are amazingly perceptive and are often acutely aware of what is going on around them. Children however may never see or appreciate the full picture of an event or a person. In much the same way, the main adult characters in this film only see the parts of eachother’s lives that they each choose to reveal. Without knowing the full truth it can be easy to judge or gloss over facts when looking in from the outside.
‘Little Children’ reminds the viewer that it is never too late to change our lives. Just when a path seems to be certain and secure beneath our feet, the breeze can pick up and carry away all those thoughts and dreams that were once so sure. The way before, our past is surely set and cannot be changed…but the way ahead, our future is filled with possibilities.