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Monday, 29 November 1999 19:00
Local opening date: 1/5/2007
Reviewed by Martha Baker
Don't expect the ordinary with Little Children. Expect, instead, to be kept in tension, the kind symbolized by violins sawing away in the background. Expect, too, not to know where this is going. And that's the best part of Little Children: it's not predictable. In fact, the producers have asked critics not to give away the ending, but it isn't the ending that makes this movie what it is. It's the tense story, the quirky characters, the odd humor, the ironic voice of the narrator, the actors themselves.

If you've read Tom Perrotta's book, on which he and director Todd Field based the screenplay, then you'll enjoy watching what the screenwrights left in of the 350-page book, but if you haven't read it, you'll appreciate being held in suspense. Field, who also directed In the Bedroom, knows a lot about keeping a number of oddballs in the air at once.

Little Children is filled with people. There's Sarah Pierce, who is stuck at home with an M.A. and a daughter she doesn't like very much. There's Brad Adamson, who's stuck at home with a son he enjoys and an assignment from his emasculating wife to study for his bar exam, again. There are the other mothers in the park, who do not accept Sarah and Brad as one of them. Such horrible women! Such fun to watch.

And then a child molester comes home to live with his mother, and the other mothers - and Larry, an ex-cop - get up in arms about having him too close to the parks and the pools where they take the children. Larry begins a campaign to rid the town of the monster, er, molester, and since Larry lost his job, he has nothing better to do than harass the man and his mother.

Sarah and Brad have nothing better to do than engage in extra-marital sex, but since Sarah's husband, a slick ad man, spends a whole bunch of his time looking at cyber porn, he doesn't miss her much. Sarah finds a little time to go to a book group, but the discussion of Madame Bovary descends into argument as Sarah begins to worry that she just might be like Emma.

The cast has hold of these characters with grippers. Kate Winslet is married to the part of Sarah, and innocently handsome Patrick Wilson is a good Brad, with Jennifer Connelly very believable as his filmmaker wife. Phyllis Somerville is very credible as Ruth, the molester's mother. The actor to watch here is Jackie Earle Haley, whose boyish face from Breaking Away has angles sharp enough to open beer cans. Haley walks the tightrope that makes his character seductive and scary to watch. As the narrator, Will Lyman's voice is ironic, yet trustworthy, the very essence of knowing storyteller. Put that with the other elements of Little Children, and you have one really fine film.

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