Little Children (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)


After considerable critical acclaim and many post-season awards for In the Bedroom in 2001, it took him five years for director Todd Fields to develop his follow-up project, and he picked a tough nut to crack. The eponymous source novel for Little Children is a complex story about suburban angst, an ambitious literary effort which walks a fine line between condescending toward its characters and compelling us to get involved with their lives. As one Amazon reviewer noted, "Most of the individuals in this novel are hypocritical, selfish, and immature. Nevertheless, Perrotta is such a gifted writer that he humanizes the characters and makes us care deeply about them. The author implies that even when we grow up and become parents ourselves, in some ways we all remain ''little children' inside." The novel is filled with intricate references and allusions to other works of literature. Sarah's book club is discussing Madame Bovary, and the parallels between Emma Bovary's life and Sarah's own are readily apparent. The work also uses some of the relationships between characters to reflect upon others. For example, the interactions of the suburban adults are pictured as grotesque mirrors of the interactions of their children.

You just know that all of that isn't going to be easy to translate to film.

Sarah (Kate Winslet) is an unfulfilled suburban housewife who is married to a dipstick of a marketing consultant and internet porn addict. She still seems to define herself in terms of her failed Ph.D. in English Literature, but is condemned to an everyday life of drudgery and motherhood to a three year old. Todd (Patrick Wilson) is an unfulfilled househusband who depends on his wife to support them because he can't seem to pass the bar exam. He still seems to define himself in terms of the star quarterback he once was, but is condemned to a life of everyday drudgery as sole caregiver to a three year old. It isn't long before Todd and Sarah realize that they are basically the same person with different genital organs, and not much longer before they start rubbing aforesaid genitals together, using their fleeting moments of passion to recapture the adolescence they miss. A major sub-plot involves their neighborhood's local child molester, who has recently been released from prison, and a disgraced former cop who harasses and bullies the pervert and his mother. The two stories intersect at various times, but the moments of intersection are not outrageous stretches of our credibility, and are not even particularly critical to the development of either story, so the film is basically structured as two stories which unfold in parallel in the same neighborhood.

In order to keep the story as faithful as possible to its literary roots, the film uses a PBS announcer to recite some eloquent prose from the novel. I'm sure you realize that such a device rarely works. Words which seem eloquent and stirring on paper often seem pompous, and insincerely rhetorical when spoken aloud in a conversational context. I cringed when I heard the announcer speechifying at the film's outset, and there were other moments when I thought the technique seemed artificial, but on balance I give the authors credit for keeping the narrator's presence low-key and unobtrusive enough that it accentuated the tone they were trying to maintain.

The script had to make some hard choices about how to treat the novel's tone shifts between romantic drama and black comedy. Fields and the novelist worked together to tell the stories as seriously as possible, trying to prevent the main characters from being comic devices by making them real. It would be possible to make both the child molester and the disgraced cop into cartoon characters, for example, but the film wisely avoids this. 

The decisions that they made worked in the sense that the film does bring the viewer into the lives of its characters, and develops all the major ones in multiple dimensions. The humor is there, but it is basically buried deep inside the absurdity of the situations, and the script concentrates the scathing condescension on a few minor characters, like Sarah's husband.  Unfortunately, all the decisions which maintained the integrity of the project also made the film much too aloof and high-falutin' to have any significant box office appeal, and the film's financial path walked along the same rickety bridge as other similarly worthy literary adaptations like The Door in the Floor. The market for this type of film is not a large one. Little Children maxed out at two million dollars in 30-40 theaters. If it is any consolation to the co-authors, the general critical consensus was that the film was a significant artistic triumph.



  • Features not yet announced



Patrick Wilson - buns

Kate Winslet - breasts and the top of her bum

DVD Source Novel

The Critics Vote ...

  • James Berardinelli 3.5/4.

  • British consensus: just less than three stars out of four. Mail 6/10, Independent 4/10, Guardian 6/10, Times 6/10, Sun 7/10, Express 10/10, Mirror 8/10, FT 8/10, BBC 4/5.


The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C+, good film, but not much mainstream appeal.

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