Little Children: From Book to Screen

In another exploration of the “brief encounter,” the Todd Field film Little Children adapts Tom Perrotta’s satirical novel into an unfortunately staid drama. Unlike in Brief Encounter or the other other films discussed in my earlier post, Little Children’s cheaters replace subtlety and repression with lust and very little emotional connection. They think they’re in love with each other simply because they’re looking for escape from suburbia, lackluster marriages and all the rules that go along with being a responsible adult.

It’s a bad sign when you recognize certain elements of the film you’re watching as having been done better in other films. In Little Children, Kathy’s realization of her husband’s affair was done more impressively a few years later in a similar dinner scene in The Kids Are All Right; a particularly sweaty moment when Little Children’s trysting couple stand naked in front of a window was done much more effectively 25 years earlier in Body Heat.

Of course, it’s hard to compare Little Children to other “brief encounter” relationships when this particular story, both in print and on film, is an ensemble piece. Much of the plot revolves around Ronnie McGorvey, a recently paroled sex offender. While the book makes it clear that Ronnie was a suspect in the disappearance of a young girl, the movie makes him merely a man who exposed himself to a kid in the mall, maintaining the pedophilia but removing the element of violence. The film also makes Ronnie far more sympathetic, both in deed and in temperament. Either way, all of the Sturm und Drang surrounding him, his mother and his nemesis, concerned citizen Larry, detract from the “love” story.

I think Little Children might be stimulating for a) people who have not read the book and b) people who need movies to be so obvious as to hit you over the head with imagery and intent. (There’s even a narrator to tell you all the little things going on in the main characters’ heads, so you need never wonder what’s going on.) The encounter is still brief, but the effect is not the same.

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