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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

A short story about death in the suburbs called In the Bedroom inspired Todd Field to make his first Hollywood film. His directing debut with In the Bedroom earned five Oscar nominations.

Now a novel set in the suburbs has caught his fancy. It's called Little Children. Bob Mondello says it's technically a comedy, but a dark one.

BOB MONDELLO: Sarah doesn't quite fit in with the other moms at the neighborhood playground. Played by Kate Winslet, she sits slightly apart, sometimes forgets to bring snacks for her daughter. Absolutely won't gossip and she doesn't get all fluttery over the handsome stay at home dad the other moms call the Prom King.

Sarah even takes a dare from the moms to walk over and actually talk to him.

(Soundbite of movie, “Little Children”)

Ms. KATE WINSLET (Actress): (As Sarah Pierce) Do you see those women over there? Don't look. You're a big character in their fantasy lives.

Mr. PATRICK WILSON (Actor): (As Brad Adamson) Wow.

Ms. WINSLET: One of them bet me $5 I couldn't get your phone number.

Mr. WILSON: Five bucks, huh?

Ms. WINSLET: Yeah.

Mr. WILSON: But could we split it 50-50?

Ms. WINSLET: It could be arranged. It doesn't have to be your real number.

Mr. WILSON: Oh, well, in that case sure. Have you got a pen?

Ms. WINSLET: No I don't.

Mr. WILSON: Well.

Ms. WINSLET: No wait. You know what? It'd really be funny if you gave me a hug.

Mr. WILSON: You think?

Ms. WINSLET: Yes.

Mr. WILSON: All right. Come here.

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, my God.

Ms. WINSLET: Do you want to really freak them out?

MONDELLO: A kiss follows and an affair follows that, because Sarah and the prom king, even more than the moms they snicker at, are overgrown kids - their marriages a grown up version of playing house, their leafy suburbs a sort of giant playground, a playground that as conceived by the filmmakers has dangers lurking. A bully who used to be a cop, a pedophile who terrifies the neighborhood when he moves back in with his mother, lots of arrested development in this quiet little neighborhood, where Sarah feels trapped like the heroine of a Flaubert novel she's reading with a book club.

(Soundbite of movie, “Little Children”)

Ms. WINSLET: (As Sarah Pierce) In her own strange way, Emma Bovary is a feminist.

Unidentified Woman #2: Oh that's nice. So now cheating on your husband makes you a feminist?

Ms. WINSLET: Oh, no. It's not the cheating. It's the hunger, the hunger for an alternative and the refusal to accept a life of unhappiness.

MONDELLO: As a modern day Madame Bovary, Sarah is on a slippery slope here, which is where director Todd Field likes his characters. His films are as dense and intricate as their literary sources and full of moral quandaries. Here, he worked with the novelist, Tom Perrotta, to make sure that even when Little Children makes you laugh, it makes you feel queasy about laughing.

There's a scene that looks just like Jaws, for instance, with panicked moms dragging their kids from a neighborhood swimming pool when the neighborhood pedophile stops by. It's a complicated moment - the threat real, the panic overstated, the Jaws reference amusing and as it plays out, you'll be struck by the larger issues it calls up, how this all American enclave leaps from scandal to scandal raising its threat awareness level, sometimes going into a kind of security overdrive. Little Children, for all its concentration on the every day, is a picture that looks at the big picture.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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