Harsh lighting exposes moral wrinkles

Little Children, 136 minutes. Rating: MA. Director: Todd Field. Starring: Kate Winslett, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly website

Harsh lighting exposes moral wrinklesAt first glance, it’s easy to draw comparisons between the sexual drama Little Children and films such as Todd Solondz’s Happiness, or David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, for that matter; films that skulk menacingly through suburban dystopias, drawing out the darkest of dark secrets as they go.

Like Happiness, Little Children parallels the interconnected stories of a range of troubled suburbanites, and even includes a subplot about a paedophile—although co-writer/director Todd Field is more interested in humanising than demonising this particular social outcast (played by former child star Jackie Earle Haley).

In fact, humanity—with all its faults and foibles—is at the heart of Field’s film (adapted from the eponymous novel by co-screenwriter Tom Perrotta), and it’s this that sets it apart most vividly from Solondz’s more subversive film.

After all, it’s not simply moral weakness that drives end-of-her-tether housewife Sarah (Winslett) into the arms of another man. She’s an academic who feels suffocated by her role as housewife to her business exec husband Richard (Gregg Edelman) and their young daughter, with whom Sarah simply can’t bond.


True, Richard is, of late, up to his ankles in internet porn, but Sarah’s dissatisfaction has been brewing for some time, and her decision to embark on an affair with local house-husband and father Brad (Wilson) reeks of childlike self-indulgence.

Speaking of adult ‘children’, prospective lawyer Brad has also been yearning for the carefree days of his youth. His beautiful, successful but emasculating filmmaker wife (Connelly) thinks he’s been studying for his bar exam (failed twice already), when in fact he’s been spending his study time watching a group of local teens skateboarding.

Harsh lighting exposes moral wrinklesNeedless to say Brad and Sarah’s respective home lives are not foremost on their minds as they proceed to meet regularly during the day, using their children’s budding friendship as a cover for each illicit rendezvous.

Of course, guilt has a way of catching up with people, just as lies have a habit of being found out in the end—ultimately, Brad and Sarah need to make a choice regarding where they will seek their happiness.

The saga is a tad too lengthy, and its resolution somewhat overwrought; still, the film’s strength lies in its comprehensively drawn characters, convincingly inhabited by the film’s stars. Both Winslett and Wilson give career highlight performances, bravely ‘nuding up’ both physically and emotionally, while Field allows them to be shot close up under harsh lighting that highlights every blemish and wrinkle.

It’s humanity Field’s after, and humanity he gets: his leads render sympathetic, three-dimensional characters, even if you condemn their behaviour.

 

 

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