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FALL SNEAKS | THE DIRECTORS

Start by ripping up the book

Todd Field Loved Tom Perrotta's Novel `Little Children,' But To Make A Movie Out Of It, He Realized He Had To Wage War Against It.

September 10, 2006|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

TODD FIELD didn't think there was a movie in Tom Perrotta's "Little Children." He believed the novel could be turned into an entire miniseries.

After discussions for an eight-part HBO adaptation didn't pan out, Field condensed Perrotta's book into a taut feature film, opening Oct. 6, that still included most of the book's suburban unrest plots and even some of its comic digressions -- with one significant exception.

"When you adapt a novel, you have to wage war on it. After I read the galleys I told Tom, 'I really love your book. And I hate the ending. It has nothing to do with your book,' " says Field, who adapted 2001's Oscar-nominated "In the Bedroom" from an Andre Dubus short story. "And Tom said, 'I know what you mean.' I said, 'It's got to change.' " Perrotta joined in the reworking and shares with Field a screenplay credit.

Readers of Perrotta's book will know what Field excised, a deus ex machina revelation by Ronald McGorvey, who has been convicted of indecent exposure. Field was less interested in a movie about sex crimes and bombshell revelations than he was in exploring connected stories about how mothers treat their children -- and their husbands.

At the film's center stands Sarah (Kate Winslet), an overeducated, bored mom who is more intrigued by stay-at-home dad Brad (Patrick Wilson) than her own daughter and Internet porn-addicted spouse.

"Sarah is a mother in waiting," says Field, who acted in "Eyes Wide Shut" and "Ruby in Paradise." "And in Brad she sees someone who is a great parent. When she sees someone that is that devoted to a child, she thinks, 'Maybe he could be that devoted to me.' "

Brad has his own maternal issues. His wife, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly), infantilizes him, telling him he doesn't really need to subscribe to Sports Illustrated, nagging him about getting a job, pushing him to pass a bar exam he is doomed to fail. Kathy has her own knotty relationship with her mother, who is financially supporting her daughter and son-in-law.

But none of the film's mother-child pairings is as complicated or as moving as McGorvey's (Jackie Earle Haley) bond with his mother, May (Phyllis Somerville). "She is the grande dame of the matriarchy," Field says of this unconditionally dedicated parent. "She has clearly had to deal with a lot of unwanted attention."

Most of that attention comes from Larry (Noah Emmerich), a former police officer obsessed with ruining McGorvey's life.

"It's a challenging film. It's very hard," Field says. "People are either going to choose to engage the film, and have a conversation with the film, or they are not. It will polarize people."

As do so many mothers.

*

john.horn@latimes.com

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