It’s unusual in contemporary American cinema, or even books, to have a third person narrator. The use of one in Little Children immediately tells us that filmmaker Todd In The Bedroom Field has abandoned the minimalist references to Ozu with which he illuminated his debut feature in favour of the melodrama of Douglas Sirk and Pedro Almodovar. The narrator sounds like something from The Twilight Zone, and conveniently Little Children is set in a suburban community that seems otherworldly, a place that only really seems to exist in fiction. The narration, like that which sparkled in Amelie and Barry Lyndon, is full of cutting attention to detail, which aids the big screen adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel.
We enter a community in crisis. Mothers are concerned that a sex offender has moved into the neighbourhood. The mothers congregating in the park are all pure Middle America, except Sarah (Kate Pierce).
An aspiring writer, Sarah insists on looking after her child but is not a very attentive mother, being forgetful, frustrated and in need of attention herself. Her life spruces up when the town hunk Brad (Patrick Adamson) known as ‘the Prom King’ enters her life. Their first kiss is pure magic, a moment to match Grace Kelly’s lunge in Rear Window.
Both Brad and Sarah have unhappy marriages. Sarah’s husband (Gregg Edelman) gets his pleasures from the internet and Brad’s striking documentary filmmaking wife (Jennifer Connelly) makes him feel inadequate.
It is at a scene at a book club where the literary references for this story are spelled out in capital letters. While Sarah’s inner angst and romantic yearnings come from Madame Bovary, the film ventures into Crime and Punishment territory when sex offender Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley) enters the fray. As in Nicole Kassell’s The Woodsman it’s not clear whether we should give him the benefit of the doubt. Little Children is a superb adaptation, which is, nevertheless, slightly let down by too much exposition that comes from a desire to give too many characters meaningful time on screen.