Little Children is a bit of a disaster. The reason is clear: a very jacked up script that takes “loosely based” to a level of “not based on in the slightest.” I could have forgiven that if the new monster was an interesting one but the message of Little Children is as clear as day. “You better not derive entertainment out of me or you’re missing the point.” That’s not a message I appreciate or would care to pay for.
Based on the novel of the same name, Little Children is the story of intertwining lives in the suburbs. The film focuses on Sarah and Brad (played by Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson). The pair is saddled with children and unhappy in their marriages. They strike up a friendship and we go from there. The performances by all involved are worthy; it’s everything else that’s not. I should also mention Jennifer Connelly makes a few appearances here as Brad’s wife and there is a subplot involving a pedophile for your enjoyment.
A common complaint about movies based on books is that they aren’t as good. I very rarely make this complaint because I understand the math involved in bringing literature to the big screen. Most books are 250 pages minimum whereas a shooting script needs to top out at around 100 pages. You’re going to lose some detail and I allow for that. It doesn’t bother me if plot lines are left out or shortened. That’s life in the big city. What does bother is a complete reversal of the tone and point. In other words it’s going to piss me off if you take a bio on Abraham Lincoln and focus on JFK. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable standard because if you’re going to make a movie and name it the same thing as the book you’re obligated to at least get the overall tone right. If you’re going to change themes to suit your whims name the film something different and write about the theme you want to tackle. I think if you start with an acorn, turn it into a turkey and then call it “An Acorn Story” you’re being dishonest and cinematically bankrupt. Okay, I think I’m out of metaphors, so let’s turn this over to the counterargument followed shortly by the final verdict.
You could come back at with me with something to the effect of “Well, the tone of the original work is in the eye of the tone-beholder.” Such a stance would be reasonable if Todd Field wasn’t on record as saying “I didn’t like when the book went that direction. So I just worked with him (the book writer) to change it.” I’m not going to get into spoilers on the off chance you’re still hoping to catch this but I will say the direction that changed was the entire plot. He went a different direction on the reality of the characters, and he turned a dark comedy into a melodrama. What he got out of the book wasn’t in fact what the book was about. The last argument anyone could make on this film’s behalf would be “Ok, but couldn’t the new theme have some value?” It could, the opportunity is there, but it’s never realized. It’s a miss even if you’d never even heard of the book. It doesn’t follow up on its early potential, instead going for faux Oscar style scenes that feel extremely staged.
This is a skip. It’s depressing, it’s not at all what you’d expect if you’d read the book, and it’s not effective if you haven’t either. It doesn’t stand on it’s own as a form of entertainment, instead it relies on the good name of a popular book to sucker people in. All the actors were fine, there were nice comedic moments, and Todd Field is probably capable of a worthy film somewhere down the line but Little Children was the victim of a very bad adaptation and it deserves little fanfare from here on out.