Monday, May 19, 2008

Little Children

Wow. What a twisted, unexpected gem of a movie. I guess I should clarify that--I expected this to be a film that worked for me, ever since I saw the original trailer for Little Children back in 2006. Throw in Kate Winslet and Jennifer Connelly--two actresses I'm a huge fan of--and how could it go wrong?

It didn't. And although the movie was almost exactly what I was expecting, it presented itself in a manner that caught me completely off guard. For one, there was a narrator throughout the film, offering insightful, dry and sometimes cynical commentary on the goings-on. Unlike, say, American Beauty, we never learn who this narrator is or what his stake in the proceedings may be. This results in a very detached experience in watching the film, as if there's a pane of glass between the viewer and the action on the screen. I found this curious, but it grew on me. That, and this is a wickedly cruel film at heart. I mean, there is some deeply cynical humor built into this movie that none of the characters involved would find amusing, but it's blackly funny as all get-out to those of us watching from the outside. The whole film is a deadpan, straight-faced satire of... well, I suppose my disaffected, cynical brethren of Generation X (and why wouldn't we be disaffected and cynical? The Baby Boomers have used their vast numbers to screw up this country, while the Millennials will hopefully use their vast numbers to fix it. Our paltry Gen X population will suffer through it all, reaping neither the plunder nor the redemption).

The characters, by and large, are all immature and unlikeable to varying degrees, but also sympathetic. There's some pretty ham-fisted symbolism set up between Kate Winslet's character and Madam Bovary, something that shouldn't work but really does (perhaps because of the distance established by the voiceover). The character work here is top-notch, all the way around. From the snotty playground moms to the off-duty, football-playing cops, there's an air of authenticity throughout that makes the film worthwhile.

There were some puzzling choices made by the filmmakers, however. Despite the star power in the cast, Connelly and Winslet never share a scene together, even though an awkward dinner involving the two families is referenced late in the flick. There's a scene with Winslet's babysitter leaving abruptly, giving the impression that she'd somehow found out about Winslet's ongoing affair with Connelly's husband, but this is never touched on again. A paroled sex offender plays a major role in the plot, but for some inexplicable reason his crime was indecent exposure rather than something more heinous, which would've given more heft to the neighborhood's concerns. Immediately after the show ended, I clicked to the menu to check out the deleted scenes--it felt very much like there were several that'd been edited from the film--but was disappointed to find out that none were included. If that dinner scene was indeed filmed, then by golly that's one bit of drama I'd really love to see.

All in all, an excellent character piece. Recommended for those who like this sort of thing.

Now Playing: Joanne Shenandoah & Lawrence Laughing Orenda

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