Little Children didn't win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay; that honor went to The Departed, which was merely adapted from another film script. But translating Tom Perrotta's novel to the screen is almost as much of a no-brainer: This book was just made to be made into a movie.
Now a critically acclaimed film starring Kate Winslet (who earned an Oscar nod for the role), Little Children pays homage to the adult suburban dystopias imagined by authors like John Cheever and The Ice Storm author Rick Moody. But here, the story is told entirely with an eye toward children, from toddler play dates threatened by a child molester to grown-ups behaving like children.
Fittingly, the storytelling style leans more toward parable than novel, which is precisely why it's better suited to film, so
Essentially the story of two adults indulging in a youthful summer romance, Little Children centers on Sarah (played by Winslet in the film), a recovering radical poseur turned suburban mom who can't stomach the vapidness of her playground peers. That is, until she meets Todd, a hunky dad the moms call "the Prom King," and the two start a convenient love affair.
Meanwhile, a convicted child molester moves to town, and Todd and his football-team buddies rally to protect the local kids and end up looking rather foolish in the process. At a meeting of concerned parents, Todd is described as "plagued by the self-consciousness of the imposter, an adult playing dress-up."
And therein lies the book's central conflict, as both Todd and Sarah feel thrust into adult responsibility before their time. Both they and the other characters feel extraordinarily one-dimensional, and — parable-style aside — I found myself getting angry at their whininess. Meanwhile, the simple, conversational prose reads so much like a script treatment I found myself wondering why I didn't just put down the book and go see the movie, where capable actors might add some depth to the characters.
Now, I just need to see Little Children; if you've seen the movie (or, better yet, also read the book), tell me what you think.