Director Todd Field is a trained Hollywood actor and the odds of a Hollywood actor having a profound thought are pretty remote. I'm sure it happens, just not often, so if I were Field, I'd assume that whatever thought I was having probably isn't profound. I'd go with the odds.
Anyone who considers himself an adult and comes out of "Little Children" convinced that he has nothing in common with the characters in the film is somebody who's either in deep psychological trauma or is simply a thinker of so little depth that his brain would float on the surface of a puddle.
The merits of the film itself is another matter entirely. Director Todd ("In the Bedroom") Field and screenwriter/novelist Tom ("Election") Perotta are trying to characterize Generations X & Y by uniting them in their self-absorption. This self-absorption is defined by, as the too on-the-nose title would indicate, the inability to mature. This inability to mature is defined, most notably, by the habit of fantasizing about what isn't, ignoring what is, living in the past, and generally deflecting responsibility.
While both Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet) and Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson) are neglected spouses, they are also entirely incapable of solving their problems. They are incapable of coming up with a plan of action in any way, shape or form. They both just go with the flow. Thus, when they meet up in a playground and pretend to be having an affair, they just lazily fall into having a real one. They have an excuse to engage in an affair, so they do.
I think Field thinks this sort of social analysis is a lot more profound than it actually is. After all, Field is a trained Hollywood actor and the odds of a Hollywood actor having a profound thought are pretty remote. I'm sure it happens, just not often, so if I were Field, I'd assume that whatever thought I was having probably isn't profound. I'd go with the odds. Perhaps this doesn't address Perotta's involvement since he's a writer and writers, by and large, have been known to have profound thoughts. However, I think this film's profound thought - that our generation has a hard time maturing - is probably more self-indulgence than anything else.
The inability to solve problems and a propensity to project things onto others are traits best represented by some other characters: Larry Hedges (Noah Emmerich) and Ronald James McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley). The latter is a convicted pedophile who returns to live with his mother while the former is a guy really, really hell-bent on making the convicted pedophile leave. Larry represents your typical hypocrite attempting to cover up the fact that he has serious problems himself. Larry has an agenda and a secret. His secret proves ironic in much the same way Ted Haggard's secret proved ironic.
McGorvey is the only character in the film who has any self-awareness and a seemingly legitimate excuse for his behavior. The guy is screwed up in a pathological way, so one can have some sympathy for the fact that he can do little about his behavior while the other characters screw up their lives and have no excuse for their ridiculous behavior.
Of course, this is the whole point of the movie: the analysis of behavior. The whole thing is too easy. Take the character with the most objectionable behavior and use him as an example to illuminate the problems with the other characters. Sympathy for pedophiles is great until it's your kid who's the victim. "Little Children" isn't exactly a hard movie to figure out and its level of social analysis probably wouldn't get a passing grade in an entry level college course.
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