One's thoroughly imperfect but tragic and relatable. The other is cold and demanding. When you watch the two moms in the critically acclaimed film, "Little Children," that's how they seem. One's light. One's dark. And that's a shame. The movie is promoted as a suburban drama about angst in a fictional Massachusetts town, particularly the shared angst between two stay-at-home parents, a mom and a dad, who engage in a steamy affair that's promoted on sexy movie posters around the country.
But the desperate affair between Kate Winslet's hyper-literate character Sarah Pierce and Patrick Wilson's at-home dad Brad Adamson who can't seem to pass the bar exam, is only one aspect of "Little Children's" intrigue. One of the more interesting parts of the movie is the contrast between Winslet's at-home character and Jennifer Connelly's character Kathy Adamson, the documentary film-making breadwinner of the Adamson family.
Winslet's character is sympathetic. An English lit grad school student who never finished her dissertation, Sarah is married to a dead fish of a man who, while he amply provides her with life's tangibles (money, big house, etc.), he neglects his family and instead chooses to bond with internet porn. Their pre-school aged daughter Lucy is yet another source of Sarah's anguish because Sarah doesn't like being an at-home mom, thus there are scenes where a harried Sarah harshly shoos her daughter away.
One of the funniest moments in the film comes when Sarah -- clearly not a stereotypical, Parents Magazine-reading, Bree Van De Kamp kind of mom - clashes with a trio of "perfect" moms who never forget snacks (they only provide healthy ones, mind you) when visiting the neighborhood playground, and always have sensible ideas about sensible things. Even though some may wince at Sarah pushing her daughter away, they can relate to her feelings of not fitting in.
Then there is Connelly's Kathy. Kathy -- with her very dark hair, light skin and severe makeup -- looks unapproachable. She is portrayed as a nag who hounds her aw-shucks-slacker-surfer-dude of a husband for subscribing to too many magazines that he doesn't really need, telling him he doesn't have any reason to own a cell phone and insists that he go to the library every night after she gets home from work so he can study for the bar exam. (He doesn't study, by the way, just hangs around watching skateboarders outside the library.) And when Brad wants to have "relations," Kathy literally keeps their pre-school aged son Aaron in bed between them. The only moments of humanity for her character come when she fearfully suspects that Brad is having an affair and when she is working on a documentary about the young family of an American soldier left behind afterhe was killed in Iraq.
While I really liked the film and identified with Sarah's feeling of detachment and alienation from the "happy at-home mom culture," I wish that the film didn't portray Kathy as such an artic creature, one who seems more worried about money and keeping her husband faithful than she does about forging an emotional connection with her family. Clearly under pressure to earn enough money for the family of three, there is insufficient explanation as to why Kathy is seen as so distant, while Sarah, even when she ignores her own daughter, seems much more approachable and warm.
Now I don't think that the screenwriters - Tom Perrotta and Todd Field - were intentionally trying to make a negative statement about working moms, but part of this film made me feel as though there was an unspoken message that it's somehow unnatural for a wife to be the family's breadwinner, how emasculated the situation makes Brad feel to have Kathy "wear the pants in the family." And because Brad feels like a failure because he can't pass the bar exam and is now an at-home dad, he takes it out on Kathy by deceiving and cheating on her instead of facing his problems.
The messages "Little Children" sends are sometimes subtle and sometimes not. Yes, it's an intense and oftentimes sharply observant piece of filmmaking, but the portrayal of the only mom who is doing paid work as a cold being -- the equivalent of the sad, porn-addicted husband -- left me just that, cold.