January 3, 2008

Mini-review: "Little Children"

(CCLaP publishes mini-reviews of both books and movies on a regular basis, none lasting more than a few hundred words. Click here for the full list.)

Little Children, the movie

Little Children (movie; 2006)
Written by Todd Field and Tom Perrotta, from Perrotta's original novel
Directed by Todd Field

Regular readers will remember that about six months ago I reviewed the original book version of Tom Perrotta's Little Children, and that in general I found it a really smart and satisfying read, certainly something a lot darker and more complex than I was expecting from this movie-friendly author (he was the original author of Election as well, for those who don't know, and his newest novel The Abstinence Teacher had its movie rights sold even before the book came out). And now I've finally gotten to see the movie version of Little Children as well, the Oscar-nominated one that got so much attention in 2006, with a script that was co-authored by Perrotta himself and a production that was headed by Todd Field, director of the previous controversial award-nominated In the Bedroom. (By the way, Field is an actor as well; you weirdo-movie lovers might know him best as the creepy jazz pianist Nick Nightingale in Stanley Kubrick's misunderstood Eyes Wide Shut.) And I'm happy to say that Little Children doesn't disappoint, even if one is a fan of the original novel; in fact, this might just be one of the rare times in history when I go so far as to say that the movie version might just be better than the novel. A shocker, I know! I'll explain...

Like the book, the movie version of Little Children is a look at the American suburbs, and of all the horrible dark hidden things that go on in those environments, precisely by people who are fatally bored with the forced homogenization of all those endless cul-de-sacs. In fact, it's remarkable how closely the movie sticks to the original plotline of the book as well; that it is still primarily the story of former radical-feminist academe Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet), who finds herself these days a morally compromised housewife and mother living an ennui-filled existence in a Boston-area McMansion, and her neighbor Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson), a good-looking former football star who is now the henpecked husband of a successful PBS documentarian (Jennifer Connelly), who is expected by everyone else to finally finish his law degree soon but deep inside just doesn't want to. The depressing circumstances, the endless life disappointments these two are constantly facing, is what ends up drawing them together within this soulless expanse of cheap franchise restaurants and tasteful GAP sweaters, and is what fuels the affair they end up having.

The movie hits exactly all the right notes as far as the actual story (and see my original review for more on that story, if you're interested); but more than this, though, Field conveys a visual sumptuousness and artistic vision that actually makes the story even stronger and more powerful here than even the book version. Given that it's usually the visuals of a movie that screw book adaptations up, I'm as shocked as anyone to be mentioning how stunningly successful they are here; just take for one good example how legitimately hot all the sex scenes between Winslet and Wilson are here, which I mention not just for titillation's sake but also because it emphasizes Perrotta's original story point even more, that even pedestrian sex with frumpy housewives can seem impossibly erotic and sensuous when had through the filter of a forbidden torrid affair. There's a lot more to this story than just that, of course, but I think that's the most important and interesting thing Perrotta has to say here; that it is the pure blandness and existential horror of the suburbs that lead so seemingly many in those environments to such things as steamy afternoon affairs, which is precisely why it seems that so many frumpy suburbanites really are having steamy afternoon affairs these days. Fans of the novel will not be disappointed, I will tell you that, and this haunting adaptation deserves all the accolades it originally received and more.

Out of 10: 9.8

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:48 AM, January 3, 2008. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |