Jackie Earle Haley

As a teen I rarely watched many of the films targeted to teenaged boys.  I lived about five blocks from the Granada Theater in Dallas, which at the time was a phenomenal repertory cinema.  They showed Fritz Lang, Fassbinder, Kurosawa, and so on.  I was very lucky.  But on occasion I would see something more mainstream.  One of the films that had a strong influence on me was the great coming-of-age movie, Breaking Away.  Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern went on to many success over the years.  But of the actors portraying the four central characters, I was much more intrigued with the other two.  Dennis Christopher was so watchable, that when he appeared the following year in Fade to Black, I made myself think that that movie was significantly better than it truly was.  Also still clear in my memory was the performance of Jackie Earle Haley, as Moocher.

Haley is most often remembered in either Breaking Away or the Bad News Bears movies as Kelly Leak.  It seems he struck a chord with many people my age and younger for his work in the Bad News Bears.  When I tell people that not only does he live here in San Antonio, but my friend Nikki Young introduced me to him at La Tuna restaurant, they often seem impressed; in fact, more impressed, I'm sure, than were I to say I'd met Dennis Quaid.

For some time Haley has been on the other side of the camera, running his own production company.  But, at least for the moment, he is back as an actor, with roles in two major films in current release.

One of them opened today here in San Antonio.  Little Children.  It's directed by Todd Field who gave us In the Bedroom, a film I really didn't care for.  The script for Little Children was adapted from a novel by Tom Perrotta.  Perrotta gave us the novel Election which was made into the movie of the same name.  Little Children (the movie) lacks the humor of Election (the movie), but deals with similar themes of social and sexual transgressions.

The setting of Little Children is the upper middle class bedroom community of some east coast city.  Boston, or New York.  I can't recall if we were ever given a specific location.  The film gave us that lifeless sub-genera a writing teacher of mine once referred to as suburban gothic.  I hate this sort of crap, mainly because I can't relate to those who live in the suburbs.  I can't generate sympathy for them.  But Little Children goes a bit further than many of these story-lines by giving us some fairly well developed characters.  It joins company with those other smartly written suburban films of late such as Election, American Beauty, and the films of Todd Solondz.

If there is any inherent draw to audiences to see Little Children, it will be because of Kate Winslet (and several nude scenes with her), Jennifer Connelly (no nudity for her, but there is a scene where she is, inexplicably, wearing green leopard print panties — but I guess that's always in her contract), and some pretty boy I'd never seen before named Patrick Wilson (who shows his ass a lot).  But the audiences should be coming to see Haley.  His is the pivotal character, creating the sense of tension and danger.  We see only photos of him for the first 30 minutes or more.  And for most of the second act I kept wondering why his character seemed so flat.  But by the third act, it all makes sense.  There needed to be that slow build to his final, brilliant performance.  He's amazing.

Also, I want to give a plug to one of my favorite actors.  Jane Adams.  She appeared in the thematically similar films Happiness and The Anniversary Party — though most people will know her from Frasier, where she plays Mel, Niles' short-term second wife.  Her screen time in Little Children is maybe five minutes, but the three consecutive scenes with her and Haley are so tight and true, that I wish the rest of the movie could have maintained that level of acting.

 

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