Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Gregg Edelman, Jackie Earle Haley, Noah Emmerich, Jane Adams
Written by: Todd Field, Tom Perrotta, based on the novel by Tom Perrotta
Directed by: Todd Field
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality and nudity, language and some disturbing content
Running Time: 130
Date: 09/01/2006

Little Children (2006)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Suburban Renewal

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Actor-turned-director Todd Field here releases his sophomore effort, and it's a doozy, filled with lively, fluid moments on a large, widescreen canvas. Unfortunately, Field must have been swept away by all the awards-season hullabaloo surrounding his previous film In the Bedroom (2001) and he has crafted this one to be another prize-winner. It's way too long and tries a bit too hard to sound important. Kate Winslet stars as Sarah, a suburban mom, in charge of her daughter while her husband works. Bored and annoyed by the daily catty nattering of all the other moms at the playground, she befriends Brad (Patrick Wilson), a stay-at-home dad. They slowly and casually begin an affair, which is mirrored by Sarah's all-women reading group and their book of the moment: Madame Bovary. Brad's wife, a crafty and beautiful documentary filmmaker (Jennifer Connelly) suspects something, but Sarah's husband (Gregg Edelman), a woefully underdeveloped cuckold obsessed with internet porn, doesn't. All the while, a paroled child molester (Jackie Earle Haley) has moved into the neighborhood, unsettling everyone. A narrator with a gentle baritone clues us in to how all the characters are feeling. Field spends his luxurious running time developing the relationship between the lovers, even if Wilson is a fairly bland actor. A good measuring stick would be Alexander Payne's Election (1999), which was also adapted from a novel by Tom Perotta and was a good deal tighter and more fearless; that movie sustained its biting humor, while Little Children can't quite decide on a tone. It wants to be gentle and moving and potent and funny, but jumbles those moods one after the other. If Field had loosened up and embraced something more dangerous, he might have had something closer to a nasty suburban satire. Nonetheless, there's enough good work here to make it worth a look.

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