Actor/Director Todd Field directed a few features during the 1990's, but shot to arthouse fame with 2001's In the Bedroom which featured his first collaboration with Thomas Newman. While the film certainly made a big impression, the music (on disc, at least) failed to make much of an impact, producing one of Newman's least penetrable works. Fortunately for us, Little Children has as fine and enjoyable a score as it is a film. A sort of mix of Desperate Housewives (Newman-esque theme and score) and American Beauty (spectacularly well known Newman score!), Little Children is somewhat less flippant than the latter and less outwardly comedic than the former. Indeed, it performs the impressive juggling act of a few scenes that are hilarious and horrific at the same time, aided immensely by impressive lead performances from Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson.
The film is spotted fairly lightly and there are plenty of occasions where Newman stays ostensibly in the background with his trademark synth pads and unusual instruments. Cues such as What's the Hurry?, Red Bathing Suit and the especially dark, piano led, Be a Good Boy are subtle, but dramatically potent and brief enough not to bog down the musical flow. Most Newman scores suffer from a song or two breaking up the atmosphere, but feel Fly Me to the Moon is actually a reasonably effective intermission and, being an orchestral instrumental, the tone doesn't do an awkward musical U turn. Strangely, one very prominent track from the film, that for the final midnight baseball game, is entirely absent from the CD. It would be ironic to find that Newman included the song instrumental but felt the baseball music would be fundamentally at odds with the overall tone of the album. A shame though, as it's a great little cue in the film.
If ever there was a case to be made for buying an album on the basis of one track, Little Children would be it. Newman doesn't habitually write terribly long tracks - perhaps one of the greatest disappointments in his writing - but if the End Title is anything to go by, it's a crying shame that he doesn't more often. It features the kind of lithe, lilting string writing at which he excels, plus a few esoteric touches to give it the essential Newman twist. It's a prototypical Newman cue and a sure fire entry on any compilation of his music (which, I would add, seems a long time coming). Little Children isn't the most flashy Newman score, but with a handful of typically fine highlights, interspersed with introspective, but dramatically astute passages, it's another fine effort that shouldn't overshadow his impressive pastiche The Good German.