Look out for this one at next year’s award nominations. Outstanding writer/director Todd Field builds on his success with In The Bedroom to make one of the best films of the year.
Ronald (Jackie Earl Haley), a convicted paedophile, is released from prison and is living at home with mom (Phyllis Somerville) in a nice ‘n respectable suburb of Boston much to the horror of the local mums and dads – especially Larry (Noah Emmerich), an ex-cop with anger management problems.
The cosy, mother and toddler world of the local park and pool is interrupted first by Sarah (Kate Winslet), the bored mother of little Lucy (Sadie Goldstein) and then by “prom king” Brad (Patrick Wilson), the unfulfilled father of little Aaron (Ty Simpkins). The weather’s hot; the attraction is real and their fantasy world might just come true but what about their partners? And who’s keeping an eye on the kids?
Washington Post: “A hugely absorbing social drama that is, by turns, excruciating, sad and sardonic.”
Rolling Stone: “Don’t be put off by the sweetie-poo title…this unnervingly funny and quietly devastating film pulls you in like a magnetic force field.”
Todd Field, with only one major film behind him (the very successful In The Bedroom), directs like a first time director. Not by showing any inexperience but by revealing his youthful enthusiasm for the art of filmmaking and his joy in the composition of shots and in the relationship between them. He is not frightened of showing off, in giving us some visual treats and playing with the medium. He is developing into a master of suspense mixed with humour that Hitchcock himself would admire.
The movie bursts with visual imagination – from the poetic night images of adolescent skateboarders and the floodlit ballgame to the beautifully controlled single steadycam shot that follows Sarah and Brad through the early days of their relationship and the truly brilliant sequence when Ronald, the paedophile ill-advisedly goes snorkelling in the crowded local pool – a scene that rivals Jaws in its intensity. There are no spectacular landscapes, no great displays and yet the imagery of a small piece of American suburbia fills the screen as impressively as if it were the Rocky Mountains or the Grand Canyon.
He is not just a visual tricks man though as he is also the principal screenwriter (with novelist Tom Perrotta whose book of the same name is the starting point for the movie). Words and pictures come together in a piece of immaculate story telling with a detached and witty downbeat commentary from an invisible narrator (Will Lyman). The script is funny, tragic, suspenseful and dramatic in turns
Todd Field might just be a great director in the making.
Kate Winslet gives her best performance since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as Sarah, the bored, frustrated, frizzy haired English Lit graduate who finds motherhood a bit of a slog. This is a deeply studied performance where every changing emotion is convincingly portrayed without exaggeration. She dreams of an idealised romantic relationship, like her literary heroine, Madame Bovary, so her frustration and repressed anger are magnificent when she discovers her creepy husband (Gregg Edelman) at his computer, in cyber ecstasy, with a pair of polka dot knickers on his face. Magnificent too is her awakened passion when she decides to risk all in a dangerous liaison.
Her “Mr. Right” is Brad (Patrick Wilson), a handsome, slightly thick, failed law student who is looking after his son whilst his beautiful and upwardly mobile wife (Jennifer Connelly) single-mindedly pursues her career as a television reporter specialising in family relationships. Wilson is very good at portraying nice but confused young men (as in Angels over America) and this is his perfect part. Brad, like Sarah, is looking for something else out of life. Not Madame Bovary, exactly – being a mere male, he is fumbling towards a much less defined ideal. Something that he glimpses when he watches teenage boys skateboarding or when he goes back to playing football – sex with a romantic woman is pretty good too.
When the inevitable moment happens, the screen fills, literally, with their very naked but somehow not erotic flesh. Consistently through the movie, Todd Field likes to get in close. This is all too real for comfort, we are meant to think. They are dangerously naïve. They are, after-all the little children of the title and they’ve got some growing up to do.
Another little child is Ronald in Jackie Earl Haley’s standout performance. Slight, weird looking with unnaturally pale skin, Ronald admits even to his mother (Phyllis Somerville) that he suffers from a “sexual psychosis.” Pathetic and weak though he is, you would never want to be on your own in the same room with him. Haley is masterly in conveying the agony of being the victim of his own uncontrollable urges, sometimes the sad weakling but then, suddenly and frighteningly, the predator.
Phyllis Somerville plays his elderly mother and sole protector with heroic stamina and warm sensitivity. Her face is furrowed with life’s sorrows and realities for she knows that life is no fairy tale. “We want what we want and there isn’t much we can do about it,” she says understanding just how much suffering is contained in that sentence. She, alone in this movie, is no child.
So, if there was any justice in Hollywood (I know, you don’t need to tell me), Kate Winslet, Phyllis Somerville, Jackie Earl Haley and Todd Field should all be making space on their mantelpieces when the Oscar session comes round.
Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earl Haley, Phyllis Somerville, Jennifer Connelly, Noah Emmerich