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NYC Film Festivals

NYFF: Blessed Be the Children

Not having been among In the Bedroom's biggest fans in 2001, I admit owning a few reservations about director Todd Field's follow-up, Little Children, which enjoys its NYC premiere Saturday at the New York Film Festival. I pretty much got over the hammy, yawny white suburban malaise informing both films a long time ago, but I actively want to like Field; In the Bedroom's principal accomplishment came in loving its characters without defending them--a powerful, harder-than-it-looks act owing to Field's moody, ex-actor legerdemain.


All my Children: (L-R) Todd Field, Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson meet the press (Photo: STV)

And so we have Little Children, based on Tom Perrotta's novel and, in fact, revisiting many of the same themes of family infirmity, middle-class striving and even the criminal psychosis that Field overcooked five years ago. As stay-at-home parents, Sarah (Kate Winslet) and Brad (Patrick Wilson) get to know each other through the daily summer routines of parkgoing and pool play with their young kids. Their alienation from their respective spouses--most explicitly diagrammed in the emasculating micromanagement of Brad's wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly)--underpins their mutual attraction, affairs ensue... you can see where this is going.

Except, really, you can't. Field's small-world cosmopolis also hosts an ex-con pedophile (a haunting, ice-eyed Jackie Earle Haley) and a troubled, alpha-male ex-cop (Noah Emmerich) obsessed with abating the prowler's threat. In contrast to the minor mysteries of Sarah and Brad, these are the men whose inescapable pasts everybody knows and whose futures--winding over the story like question marks--overlap with those of men and women negotiating increasingly public indiscretions of their own.

As implied in its title, Little Children addresses a life-long interchangeability of the parent/child role. Brad's 3-year-old son knows what his father is doing even as he sinks into denial, and Kathy's reliance on her mother--both financially and as the eventual guardian of her husband--shifts their relationship from that of marriage to one resembling daycare. And while Little Children is doubtless the more microcosmic (and trenchant) evaluation of husband/wife/child dynamics, Field acknowledged that he might have had a little bit of unfinished business left over from his own life as well as from the tragedy of In the Bedroom.

"I have three children," he recently told the NYFF press. "My wife's and my first daughter is in college here in New York City. And we a very different parents to all three of those children. We were very different people at different stages of our lives, and my wife and I would say that our first child grew up very fast. She did. And to this day, she has a sense of herself and confidence and assuredness based on that fact. Family life is fascinating to me because that's what I've known for a very long time, and because there's so much internal drama in family life--things that happen inside my household that are mind-boggling to me. The only time I don't have to navigate them is when I'm making a film. So in terms of the difference between one film or the other, I suppose that interests me."

And, of course, Field himself grew between then and now; he handles Perrotta's humor with a dry assuredness clearly derived from his mentor Stanley Kubrick (Field portrayed the pianist Nick Nightingale in Eyes Wide Shut), and nothing here is taken as seriously as the grave meltdowns that corroded so much his first film. Now I guess we have to wait another five years to see what he does next, but I admit feeling a little better about being on the bandwagon. -- STV

Posted at September 28, 2006 10:55 PM

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