Movie review: Little Children

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Robot Devil, the sage lord of the robot underworld in the hit comedy series Futurama, once criticized an opera written by Frye, the show's protaognist, with the following advice.

"Your lyrics lack subtlety. You can't just have your characters announce how they feel," says the hilarious metal demon once he takes the stage. "That makes me feel angry."

Many will experience similar feelings during the new film from In the Bedroom director Todd Field, which stars Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson as lovers and parents trying to best the doldrums of suburbia through a hot but misguided romance.

Based on the novel by Todd Perotta, the film begins with several generic housewives talking in a local park, with Winslet again playing an unusually kind and homely woman caught up in a situation she can't control. The dialogue among the women centers both on Wilson, a hunky single dad, and on trite subjects that people who've never lived in the suburbs think occupies the minds of those who do.

On a dare with no real motive, Sarah (Winslet) goes up and asks for Brad's (Wilson) phone number, and after pushing their kids on swings, he kisses her, in the second of countless plot turns that should defy anyone's suspension of disbelief.

This kiss - and the psychological undertones that this film implies but never really explores - eventually lead to an affair between the two, as they share afternoons at the community pool, lose many early evenings fornicating in an attic and try their best to keep a safe distance from a local pervert looming nearby.

The scenes are well-shot. The score is subtle and unique, though not of the caliber of American Beauty's. And both lead characters do what they can with another melodrama about the American suburbs, the world's most maligned area of residence.

But what is most irksome is the dark but literate voiceover explaining out loud the movements and decisions of the protagonists (perhaps antagonists if this film is to be viewed as truly about the welfare and value of kids).

In attempts to paint the film as a distant anthropological study, it explains Brad's obvious fascination with the youthful skateboarders who practice in his neighborhood. It also explains why Sarah feels ostracized from both her husband and the local mothers. It also reiterates why Sarah's husband becomes madly in lust with an online sex kitten.

At times, this narrative explains the obvious. At others, it creates redundancy rather than distance from actors doing a fine job propelling the plot.

And at still others, it takes the audience and beats them over the head with themes that have been redone so often that many must think suburbanites only gossip, commit adultery and shop at Baby Gap.

Grade: B-