This forgotten Todd Field classic is eerily prescient today.
I first read Tom Perrotta's book, Little Children, when I was in graduate school at Boston University. Maybe it was partly because I read the book where the story took place, but I fell in love with all the characters, the slightly disturbing world, and the incredible payoff.
We can all agree that if you love a book, its movie adaptation usually has a long way to go in order to impress us. But somehow Todd Field's vision lives up to the hype. The movie takes the best elements of the book and finds a way to translate them to the screen. It uses a voice-of-God narrator to keep the book's perspective as well, constantly asking us to judge the characters at the center of the movie the way we do in the novel.
This judgment also lets us see the consequences of what we root for and fear for as the story unfolds.
Tom Perrotta co-wrote the screenplay with Field, and their collaboration brought something special to the screen.
The movie stars Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Jackie Earle Haley, Noah Emmerich, Gregg Edelman, Phyllis Somerville and Will Lyman. The original score was composed by Thomas Newman. It was nominated for three things at the 79th Academy Awards: Best Actress for Winslet, Best Supporting Actor for Haley, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Field and Perrotta.
Though it didn't win anything, it's a movie I go back to over and over again. And it's one I am surprised I don't hear people talk about more.
Little Children is the best film of the early 2000s, and its message is ever-prescient today. It takes on love, suburban white angst, dangerous cops, toxic masculinity, adultery, sexual deviancy, and pornography addiction with great aplomb. It's a movie about what makes us human—our flaws.
Carina Chocano of The Los Angeles Times praised the film, saying:
"Little Children is one of those rare films that transcends its source material. Firmly rooted in the present and in our current frame of mind — a time and frame of mind that few artists have shown interest in really exploring — the movie is one of the few films I can think of that examines the baffling combination of smugness, self-abnegation, ceremonial deference and status anxiety that characterizes middle-class Gen X parenting, and find sheer, white-knuckled terror at its core."
Before the movie hit theaters, they dropped one of the greatest trailers ever made. It was sumptuous, filled with the kind of sound editing and cuts that would intrigue anyone.
But the movie tanked at the box office, earning under $15 million worldwide on a budget of around $26 million.
It's hard to imagine why the movie didn't break out. Perhaps it was the darker subject matter, but the marketing materials for this project were impeccable, from that incredible trailer to one of the sexiest movie posters of all time.
Maybe it was the title, which refers to a line from the book.
"After all, what was adult life but one moment of weakness piled on top of another? Most people just fell in line like obedient little children, doing exactly what society expected of them at any given moment, all the while pretending that they’d actually made some sort of choice."
Looking back on the film today, it's hard to imagine another American movie that showed these kinds of weaknesses and characters. With so many mature dramas moving to television, this seems to be the last bastion of storytelling and complicated characters.
Everything in the movie services the story, from the score to the cinematography by Antonio Calvache, which uses sweeping establishing shots to show the "grass is always greener" aspect of suburban life as lives are juxtaposed against one another and gossip forms.
The main point I want to make is that this movie came out in 2006, and the world seems to have finally caught up to the themes inside this story. We see cops more often held accountable for their actions. Social media has made jealousy of neighbors and gossip about friends all the more accessible. While bullying became a hot topic for a little while, we have found plenty of justifiable victims who we can hate more than even ourselves.
Little Children deserves to be among the pantheon of movies we discuss. We should have it in the best movies of all time, and certainly, atop the list of films we've seen this century. And yet people forget it exists. But if you look for it, it's there. At that playground on the corner. Waiting to run away with you, waiting for the better life you can offer it.
The one it thinks it deserves. Outside of the suburban landscape, somewhere far away from here.
All you have to do is remember it.
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It is one of my all-time favorites because it has such a strong mood, tone, and all-around performances. Best use of voice-over I have ever heard, always bringing it up to friends who want to use VO in their films. Field's best film to date.
July 6, 2021 at 11:27AM
I always thought the trailer for Little Children was one of the best I've seen, I remember seeing it in the cinema and being electrified. But sadly it set me up for a different film, as soon as the voiceover kicked in, I was like "this is not the film I was sold." I couldn't help but feel I was watching Desperate Housewives. I'd love to see a cut of this film without the VO. I get why the VO is there but for me it didn't bring anything, I don't need hand holding through those questions and stylistically it felt incongruous. Thematically I get it, but still...
I've always got the trailer right?
July 7, 2021 at 1:24AM
Maybe we saw different movies, but nothing about this film blew my mind. And the scene pool scene with JEH was painfully on the nose. Cache was released in 2005. It is easily lightyears ahead of this film in every respect, if we're talking about the best films of the 2000s.
July 7, 2021 at 12:35PM
Patrick Wils is the great actor in this movie
July 14, 2021 at 8:33PM