'Little Children' Movie Review: Kate Winslet Is Suburban Madame Bovary

Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Little Children
Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Little Children


Suburbia, U.S.A.: A married man (Patrick Wilson) and a married woman (Kate Winslet) have an affair, while an unbalanced ex-cop (Noah Emmerich) continually harasses the local convicted sex offender (Jackie Earle Haley). [Note: Spoilers ahead.]

The Pros:

  • Little Children has an intriguing premise that feels like a cross between American Beauty and Peyton Place, with bits from Madame Bovary thrown in: Manicured American suburbs are merely a deceptively placid facade that hides a whole array of human passions, urges, neuroses, and perversions.
  • Todd Field handles both the drama and the satire with a sure hand, and generally elicits solid performances from his cast.
  • Kate Winslet is outstanding as the Madame Bovary of Suburbia who finds passion outside her stale marriage; hers is such an all-consuming passion that she would sacrifice everything in life to continue experiencing it.
  • In a smaller, less complex role, Jennifer Connelly is excellent as Patrick Wilson's wife. Connelly's under-the-dinner-table moment, when she suddenly realizes her husband is cheating on her, is masterful.
  • Little Children boasts first-rate production values; Antonio Calvache's cinematography is particularly impressive.
  • The Jaws-like moment, when Jackie Earle Haley's convicted sex offender jumps into a crowded public swimming pool. While he's underwater, the camera shows his point of view, which is reminiscent of that of a shark about to attack his prey. There's no attack, however. Instead, we get to see a scene of pathetic mass hysteria, as terrified parents and children scramble to get out of the pool. And then out comes the scrawny sex offender, who, with his goggles and swim fins, looks less menacing than just about everyone else in the place. Only Winslet's and Wilson's characters – about to become social transgressors themselves – seem to be appalled by the madness.

The Cons:

  • Noah Emmerich's over-the-top performance as the ex-cop whose own private hangups propel him to demonize the sex offender.
  • The tired rationalization that Patrick Wilson's character didn't want to deal with married life because he never actually grew up. Not only is that a rehash of the cliche about men remaining boys their whole lives, but it also implies that marriage and monogamy are in and of themselves examples of mature undertakings.
  • Will Lyman's narration adds nothing to the proceedings. It just served to remind this viewer that the narrations found in François Truffaut's Jules and Jim, Bertrand Tavernier's Sunday in the Country, and Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También were just as unnecessary.
  • Most troubling of all: Todd Field and novelist Tom Perrotta opted to deviate from the ending found in Perrotta's novel. Thus, Little Children comes to a close with a Crash-style reminder that people are just people – we're all good and bad, that forgiveness and mutual understanding are good things, and most importantly that an absurd plot contrivance at the dramatic climax of a movie can all but kill it.

In Sum:

Little Children is a well-made, and generally perceptive and well-acted adult drama that is irrevocably marred by a dishonest finale.

LITTLE CHILDREN (2006). Dir.: Todd Field. Cast: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Jackie Earle Haley, Noah Emmerich, Phyllis Somerville, Gregg Edelman, Sadie Goldstein, Ty Simpkins. Scr.: Todd Field and Tom Perrotta; from Perrotta's novel.

3 Academy Award Nominations

Best Actress: Kate Winslet

Best Supporting Actor: Jackie Earle Haley

Best Adapted Screenplay Todd Field, Tom Perrotta

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1 Comment to 'Little Children' Movie Review: Kate Winslet Is Suburban Madame Bovary

  1. Sarah Pierce is up there in Winslet's greatest roles. The first scene is where she does her greatest work, but it establishes this interior voice.

    I love the narration, by the way. It adds to the film's satire.