A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this thought-provoking drama from the director of In the Bedroom probably won't be on most kids' radar. Just as well, since it includes some very mature images and ideas, including Internet porn and masturbation, adulterous sex and lies to spouses, child abuse (discussed, not shown), self-mutilation (off-screen, but with visible bloody results), and loud, intense football action. There are repeated references to a child predator who's been released from prison (neighbors campaign against him, TV reports discuss the case, parents go into a frenzy at a public pool when he shows up); he's also the center of a very disturbing scene in which he masturbates while his blind date cries helplessly, sitting next to him in her car. There are also several sweaty sex scenes between an adulterous couple, with nudity (bottoms and breasts), though these tend to be more "romantic" than explicit. Several uses of "f--k," plus other mild profanity.
What's the story?
LITTLE CHILDREN (based on the novel by Tom Perrotta) follows several intersecting storylines having to do with parents and children -- and parents who behave like children. Todd Field's movie begins with convicted child predator Ronnie McGorvey's (Jackie Earle Haley) release and subsequent return to his mother's home. The other main story involves Brad (Patrick Wilson), a stay-at-home dad studying for his third try at the bar exam, whose wife (Jennifer Connelly) is focused on their son. One day Brad meets Sarah (Kate Winslet), who feels similarly frustrated, sad, and abandoned by her spouse, who is addicted to Internet porn. Brad and Sarah enter into a steamy affair that provides a romantic vision of themselves as desired and desirable. They spend their summer afternoons at the public pool, with their children. When Ronnie arrives at the pool, dons his flippers and snorkel, then slips into the water, parents scream for their kids to get out of the water, and the cops remove Ronnie from the premises. And so the children are "protected."
Is it any good?
If Little Children -- an intricate puzzle of upper-middle-class suburban dread and desire -- is pedantic and sometimes smug in its judgments, it is also painful. As the characters try to define themselves, they are also self-deluding, which leads to tragedy.
Repeatedly, the lines separating adults and children are poorly defined. Adults are irresponsible, remaining children even as they take care of their kids. Parents pursue juvenile desires, trampling others to do so, while citing the "protection" of children as the ultimate and unassailable rationale.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the relationships between adults and children throughout the movie. Who are the "little children" of the title -- the kids or their parents? How do the adults look after their kids but also leave them vulnerable? How do the adults behave like children themselves? Why do you think Sarah and Brad are so dissatisfied with their lives? When does their relationship cross the line? Is the movie out to humanize Ronnie McGorvey, condemn him, or some of both? Do you think the characters overreact to having him in their midst, or is their fear justified?
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