A blog about movies and filmmaking.

It’s for the kids…

In drama on May 16, 2009 at 12:11 am

How long – if it is a trend – has it been in vogue to portray adults as just bigger, immature children? Is it part of the MOMMY DEAREST and PSYCHO thing, where the over-domineering parent is made that way because they’re just not equipped or mature enough to be in charge of kids? Well, whatever it is, I like it. I agree with it, both as an adult and as an observer of others. We are, just kids grown up and forced to continue whatever misguided thing was instilled in us from a young age by parents who went through the same thing with their parents, and so on.  And that’s kind of where the movies for today come from, adults that just aren’t quite ready to deal with the responsibility and sacrifice it is to have a child. 

SNOW ANGELS, the movie by David Gordon Green (director of PINEAPPLE EXPRESS) is about a small community and the relationships of the few people we follow around. First is Arthur, who we meet in band practice, as they march and attempt to play the Peter Gabriel song “Sledgehammer” and then all get yelled at by the band leader (played by Tom Noonan). He is giving them some cheesy, life affirming message – using lyrics from the song – in hopes that it makes them play the song better at their next game. Then we hear what seems to be a gunshot, then another; and then we are taken back to a “few weeks earlier”. 

Here we find Arthur (Michael Angarano) working as a dishwasher at a local chinese food restaurant, with Annie (Kate Beckinsale) and Barb (Amy Sedaris). After their introductions – we’re taken more into their lives. Annie has a daughter with separated husband Glenn (Sam Rockwell) – who after their initial split had tried to commit suicide and was taken to rehab. He has since taken  to christianity and quit drinking. Glenn’s been living with his parents and just got a job from his friend at a carpet store. 

Arthur is also dealing with a split-up of his own. His dad is moving out, leaving his mom and him. We don’t get much background here, other than the dad (played by Griffin Dunne) is gone a lot as is and has possibly played this game before of wanting to leave and then come back. The upside to all of this is that there’s also Lila (Olivia Thirlby) that seems to have an attraction to Arthur, and they hang out a lot. 

Throughout the movie, we see how the adults continually are weaving in and out of these relationships, acting like big babies or just wanting to have their way despite what it does to anyone else – even their family. Which sounds accusatory, but really isn’t that how we act? Sure, for the most part in “reality” we tend to wind up not making the dramatic choice to leave or to fuck our best-friend’s husband; but how many real life stories do you know that are just like that? 

There are some great moments of seeming real emotion in this movie. One in particular is when Lila and Arthur are in the school hallway and after one of the traumatic events in the movie. Where they’re hugging and the camera just pulls away from them, shaking and making it feel more authentic than some smooth tracking shot would have been. This isn’t a happy love story, even if at the end, our young main characters seem to be. But, the main emotional crux of the movie falls to Annie and Glenn. He wants her back, so he has his family again. But, he’s really only wanting it because that’s what it’s supposed to be like. There’s no real attachment between him and Annie, and not even really between him and his daughter. 

Annie does know what she wants, and wants to be able to take care of herself before having to deal with other people’s problems. Unfortunately, she has the little girl, and added to that she also has her mother that she does the grocery shopping for – while the mom seems to sit and watch TV shows all day. It takes begging to get the mom to leave the house – only to have her come over to Annie’s to watch the same shows. Annie is also having an affair with a friend’s husband, played by Nicky Katt. And soon that secret is revealed leaving another headache for Annie to deal with – especially when he then basically moves in with her. 

By the end of the movie, when we’ve caught up with where we were at the beginning, everyone’s lives are changed – and really no one’s for the better – but only in that it seems like they’re back to doing what they’re supposed to be. Not what they want to be doing.

LITTLE CHILDREN, written and directed by Todd Field (IN THE BEDROOM), is also about a small community of adults who are dealing with being kids, while having them. Only this one has a fascinating, if derivative, narration. The narration guides us through the lives and backgrounds of these characters like we’re being told a bed-time story. We’re introduced to Sarah (Kate Winslet), who is at a park with her daughter and three other moms. The moms all sit on one park bench gossiping and giving each other Oprah-like quips on life. Then like they’re at work, one mom blows a whistle for all the kids to come have snacks. The story only really starts because of two men; one which is called “The Prom King”, or Brad,  played by Patrick Wilson – who is a stay at home father who hadn’t brought his son to the same park in a matter of weeks now and on this fortuitous day does. When Sarah’s daughter runs over to swing beside The Prom King’s son, she is made to go over and talk to him. (One of the moms bets her five bucks that she can’t get his phone number! Sort of in that way that kids will bet a friend to go ring the door bell on some old, scary person’s house.) What she does instead causes the other moms to panic in a way we only see one other time in the movie. And that’s when the other main male character shows up at a public pool.

Ronnie J. McGorvey is a recently released sex-offender who has moved in with his mother, in the same neighborhood as our main characters. He’s played fantastically by Jackie Earle Haley, and is completely infantile and pathetic, but completely captivating (which garnered him an Oscar Nomination). He’s continually harassed by an ex-police officer played by Noah Emmerich, who also talks Brad into joining some fellow police men for a nighttime football league. 

The spouses of most of these characters are mostly unimportant, with the only one of any notice is Brad’s wife, who is played by Jennifer Connelly . And really her main purpose is to outshine Sarah in every way. Taller, perfect body; but as the saying goes, “show me a beautiful woman, and I’ll show you a man whose tired of fucking her”. Which, isn’t necessarily the truth, in the case of Brad. It’s just that after having had their son, the wife continually – and kind of creepily – fawns over the boy. Allowing him to sleep in their bed and constantly praising how perfect the boy is. Maybe if there actually was more of a real relationship, Brad would have no interest in Sarah, but then again; who knows? Of course it also kind of goes the other way with Sarah and her husband, who they both kind of seem tired of each other. She withdraws to her little study and walks with a neighbor; and he with…well, an online porn site. We never see any kind of relationship between these two, and it’s only because Winslet is so sympathetic an actor do we root for her longing for Brad. 

Of course, in the way that these movies are created, we are dealt some dramatic moments that lead to everyone having to choose a position and make a life-altering decision. The biggest plot line is with Ronnie and his tormentor, Walter (Emmerich). There are a couple of hints throughout the movie on where this relationship is going to go and even though it’s kind of cliched, it plays out – in the end – very emotional and satisfying. And on top of that, we don’t get complete closure on everything by the end of the movie. Their lives aren’t as settled as they are in SNOW ANGELS, although, by the end and through the circumstances that everyone goes through there’s plenty ways it could go. 

The one thing that I wasn’t expecting from LITTLE CHILDREN though, was the humor. Most of it coming from the secondary characters – like the moms and Sarah’s husband – but, I really enjoyed some of the absurdness of it. As much as it’s an unsettling scene, the one with Ronnie in the public pool, there’s also a nice, humorous way that he swims sort of like a shark swimming in a reef, with everyone else having made to get out of the pool and standing there looking in.

I don’t know the psychology and there’s not much I can go into about these characters from that standpoint. But, I see shades of relationships that I’ve had in them and I know people who could be perfect stand-ins for these roles. I think that what Winslet says in the movie, in a review of Madame Bovary, “It’s the hunger – the hunger for an alternative and the refusal to accept a life of unhappiness” is true. I think that what leads adults to act like children is – even if that’s not what she’s talking about above – is too many people choose unhappiness, because that’s what we’re led to believe is the “right” way to live our lives. 

I can’t say what is right or wrong, but what I seem to glean from these two movies are that the kids who choose to not want to ride in a car seat, or want to go out and play in the snow but can’t aren’t really that much different than the adults around them. And between the movies there seems to be a consistent representation between infidelity and blue toe-nail polish!

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