Little Children

Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Gregg Edelman

Directed by Todd Field
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 3.5
Community: star rating
5 3.5 0
October 5, 2006

Don't be put off by the sweetie-poo title. Adultery, Internet porn, pedophilia, mutilation and murder all figure in Little Children. This unnervingly funny and quietly devastating film — director Todd Field's first since his smash 2001 debut with In the Bedroom — pulls you in like a magnetic-force field. For starters, the movie refuses to slavishly butt-kiss its source, the justly acclaimed 2004 novel by Tom Perrotta (Election). Perrotta isn't pissed; he joined Field in the nip-tuck process in the hope of creating something freshly fierce. Mission accomplished. Except for a few clumsy slips, especially at the end, the film rides its dramatic challenges in perfect pitch.

A never-better Kate Winslet goes so deep into her character you can almost feel her nerve endings. Her Sarah is a former college feminist shocked to find herself a clueless wife and mom married to a jerk (Gregg Edelman) whom she catches jerking off to the Slutty Kay Web site. The film's narrator (Will Lyman of PBS's Frontline) provides the right note of ironic wit, even as the plot gets darker.

Field shows his mastery early, in a park scene with Sarah and three other moms ogling Brad (Patrick Wilson), a failed lawyer who tends to his son while his wife, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), makes TV documentaries. Sarah accepts the dare to get some details about this so-called Prom King. When they share an impulsive kiss, the two become social pariahs. It's a daring, wickedly erotic scene. Winslet and Wilson turn up the heat, but each actor incisively shows how Sarah and Brad are victims of their own childish illusions. They spend the summer idling by the pool, she living as Madame Bovary in her lit-major fantasies, he preferring to watch teen skateboarders instead of studying for the bar.

It's at the pool that the film's central incident occurs. Sex offender Ronald James McGorvey, played by former child star Jackie Earle Haley of The Bad News Bears, has been living with his mother, May (Phyllis Somerville), since he served two years for flashing a child. Now Ronald has decided to swim with the kids. Police are called. Larry (Noah Emmerich), an ex-cop with his own secrets, harasses Ronald. It's here that Field and Perrotta tackle a hot topic with more compassion than in the novel. The scenes between Ronald (Haley's boldly implosive performance will haunt your dreams) and his mother (the magnificent Somerville deserves award attention) are no less scary for being achingly poignant. The laughs catch in your throat in Little Children. It's more than a moral fable about the traps we set for ourselves by not growing up. Field performs a high-wire act that balances hard truth and hard-won tenderness. Most movies fade from the memory. This one sticks.

Movie Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “You Oughta Know”

    Alanis Morissette | 1995

    This blunt, bitter breakup song -- famous for its line "Would she go down on you in a theater?" -- was long rumored to be about Alanis Morissette getting dumped by Full House actor Dave Coulier. But while she never confirmed it was about him (Coulier himself says it is, however), she insisted the song wasn't all about scorn. "By no means is this record just a sexual, angry record," she told Rolling Stone. "The song wasn't written for the sake of revenge. It was written for the sake of release. I'm actually a pretty rational, calm person."

    More Song Stories entries »