A veritable sea of emotions, from love, despair, neglect, and hate churns below their pristine, everything-in-its-place veneers. The placidity of this particular neighborhood is jolted by two things: Sarah Pierce Winslet is a distant mother and wife; when she and her daughter Lucy visit the neighborhood playground, she sits away from the other mothers.
As an indirect result, Lucy doesn't play with the other boys and girls on the see-saws or merry-go-round - she just plays quietly. Meanwhile, as the empty-headed women babble to each other but not Sarah , a newcomer enters their midst - a stay-at-home father, Brad, whom they mockingly call behind his back, of course "The Prom King.
Brad, for his part, is married to a breadwinner - his wife Karen Jennifer Connelly is a documentary filmmaker who's completely absorbed with her work. Like Sarah, Brad is a little emotionally distant from his wife and their son, Aaron, so it's no wonder he and Sarah become constant companions throughout the long, hot suburban summer, spending their days either at the park or at the public pool. The other main story thread involves the community's reaction to the presence of Ronnie McGorvey, convicted as a sex offender for flashing a young boy.
Soon, there are fliers on telephone poles, and an angry outrage group is formed, led by ex-policeman Larry Noah Emmerich , who seems to be more upset with Ronnie's existence than anyone else in the town. At its core, the movie is about repression and "settling" - staying with someone just because they provide you comfort but no love is no reason at all, the film explains. Committing adultery just might be an okay act, even with children involved, as long as it means a better life for the principals.
Brad and Sarah transform from nodding acquaintances to good friends who take care of their kids together Aaron and Lucy even grow to become friends, although up to that point they'd both been loners. When the opportunity arises for them to become more, though, they take it - an act that's not easy to conceal from the prying eyes of the neighbors, let alone their respective spouses and certainly not their children. How long, if at all, can they possibly hope to maintain the charade that they're just friends?
Perhaps the thought that their own, current marriages are charades in their own right gives Sarah and Brad reason to believe they can perpetuate the sham against their spouses. Meanwhile, Ronnie attempt to cope with living as a sex offender.
He lives with his doting mom, who believes there is good in everyone; she realizes that what Ronnie did was wrong, but that it was an accident, and she tries in vain to protect him from the rest of the community, which is by and large out to lynch him.
But the brilliant caveat here is that Ronnie is by no means a victim - not only did he do what he was accused of although he shows remorse and a lot of self-hate , but he shows that he's capable of more of the same. In fact, that's the genius of Todd Field's film - not only are people flawed, but they're believably flawed. In Little Children, people make decisions for selfish reasons, and there's no wondrous epiphany that somehow saves the soul and good standing of the poor decision maker - people live with what they've done, or they don't make the decision in the first place.
Winslet and Haley were nominated for their work here; the first-ever nomination for Haley, who was probably best known as Kelly Leak in the Bad News Bears films.
He's eerie and creepy and utterly human as Ronnie McGorvey. You never really feel sympathy for the deviant, but you might feel a twinge of unease. For Winslet, this was the fifth nomination for the beauteous Briton, and it's astounding that she hasn't yet won.
Then again, she's only 31 years old! Little Children is a stark, seamless, unsettling story that grabs a hold of your psyche and twists it almost to the breaking point, relying on strong performances by Winslet, Haley, Wilson, and Emmerich as well as a tortuous plot that provides quite a jaded look at the tranquility of suburban life.
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