Words to chase away our sadness,
Cheerless though our hearts may be.
From the opening sequence of chiming clocks serenading dozens of innocent Hummels, Todd Field tries to establish a world of relationships that resonates with our inner child and false-front exterior. White lies, whoppers and outright deceit are utilized in the service of physical desire whether jerking off to internet images (Slutty Kay, at your high-speed service), fucking another man’s wife in the laundry room or donning flippers and snorkels in search of forbidden stimulation in the town pool. Pathetically, only the convicted child molester, Ronnie McGorvey (Jackie Earle Haley, courageous in every frame—will the Academy show some with an award?) and his feisty, ever-loving mother (Phyllis Somerville) pass the believability test. The remainder (two disengaged couples and their children; one ex-cop—on permanent leave due to his mall killing of an innocent teen) merely serve as pawns in the script for the pleasure of Field and co-writer Tom Perrotta.
Sarah Pierce (Kate Winslet in a breezy performance) never does have “the talk” with her on-line sex addict husband, Richard (Gregg Edelman with too few lines to develop any depth). Hunky Brad Adamson (Patrick Wilson, looking fine in and out of his gingham boxers) can’t pass his bar exam so is a stay-at-home dad while wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly, who oozes power-lust easily) brings home the bacon and questions her husband’s need for a fitness magazine subscription. Both couples have a child (Sadie Goldstein, Ty Simpkins). The care and nurturing of children by bringing them to the local park brings the unfulfilled pair in proximity. A guys’-thing barroom bet (“I’ll give you five dollars if you get his phone number,” says bored housewife No. 1 to Sarah as she and her colleagues dampen their panties over the stud pop) succeeds in lighting the flame that threatens to destroy two families and allow the failures (she at communication, he at law) to have the hottest couplings of their sad lives.
The creators can’t seem to decide just where to settle this twisted tale. The skeleton seems fine, yet many of the details jar. The book club discussion of Madame Bovary comes across as just one long set-up for a matron’s knowing smile when uttering “anal.” Lucy’s temper tantrum—even as her own mother is abducting her—comes off the rails when Sarah allows her daughter on the floor of the family van instead of being strapped in. Nobody loves Sarah anymore. Brad’s detour (and oh so predictable) boarding session with peach-fuzz “warriors” on the way to his elopement puts him back into the sandbox forever more.
With the death of his mother, due to bullying from the aforementioned cop Larry (Noah Emmerich), the childlike Ronnie honours her last wish (“Be a good boy” written in a steady hand that belied her stroke) with his own visit to the town park, hoisting a dull kitchen blade. The “good” people of town manage to drive a sick man even further into his abyss, setting, yet again, a truly marvellous example for their children with adult deeds and words. JWR