NY Mirror

 Little Children is that darkly funny and disturbing film about suburban hypocrites who become unhinged at the sight of a newly released pedophile sex offender, forgetting that they're not exactly Mary Poppins themselves. The tsk-tsking epic opened amid the MARK FOLEY and JOHN MARK KARR scandals, and I pray that's helping its box office the way Three Mile Island turned into gold for The China Syndrome. (Tragedy might as well boost the coffers of fine moviemaking; otherwise, what good is it?)

After a special screening last week, some of the flick's hotshot cast members fielded questions while distancing themselves from their icky characters. ("I'm not Larry," pleaded NOAH EMMERICH, who plays the town's self-appointed morality zealot with a secret. "I'm not Ronnie," blurted JACKIE EARLE HALEY, who brings surprising depth to the role of the pedophile—an arrested child who was indeed arrested.)

It's Haley who's getting the loudest Oscar buzz, and it helps that he's surrounded by such well-cast co-stars (like PHYLLIS SOMERVILLE and JANE ADAMS) and also that his own real-life story has such a good arc. A teen star in The Bad News Bears and Breaking Away, Haley's comet went down when he turned into the world's youngest has-been since SHIRLEY TEMPLE. Now he realizes, "My identity became attached to celebrity, and when I lost my celebrity, it became a hard trip to find me. I've had difficulties with alcohol and cigarettes, and I can't stop biting my nails. It's an OCD." Not to mention aesthetically unappealing. That really bites.


But at least that gave the comeback kid an understanding of how Ronnie uses his own obsessions to block out the world and bury his low self-esteem. "We weren't trying to make a sympathetic character," explained Haley, nibbling away. "We were trying to make him real. If anyone does feel anything for him—hatred, disdain, pity—we didn't want people to feel bad for feeling it." But Somerville piped in that as the doting mother she felt only adoration. "You always see the cherished child in a troubled, degraded man," she said. "It's the 'you should see him when he's sleeping' syndrome." Yeah, as long as he's sleeping alone.

As we prepared to run home to check on our inner children, Haley offered his take on the role's riskiness. "If it's a career killer, that's fine," he said, grinning, "because it was dead two years ago anyway."

A woman with endless waves of careers, ELLEN BURSTYN has now written a memoir, Lessons in Becoming Myself, that's a piercing look at the "masks" she had to rip off to get to some truth as a person and an actor. And how does Burstyn feel now, all naked and honest? "Embarrassed," she admitted at her book soiree last week. "Everybody in the world is going to know all my humiliating secrets. At the moment, I'm just humiliated!" And we all went home and killed ourselves.

Or tried to. We survived and ended up at The Times They Are A-Changin', that BOB DYLAN confuseical that is the result of TWYLA THARP playing victim to the success of her BILLY JOEL show. (Drumming up working-class plots out of old rock anthems can't be what she had in mind when she went to college. Oh, it was? Never mind.) Now she puts Dylan's songs about liberation and change into a corrupt-circus setting, which seems as offbeat as adapting the works of Freud into limericks. The animal number and the flashlight dance are two of the season's biggest "say what?" moments. But when the lead actor—or his understudy, actually—got to the Dylan lyric about "the jugglers and the clowns," he triumphantly pointed to the chorus of, yep, jugglers and clowns, beaming since the whole show clearly made sense now. Alas, judging from the critical reaction, they probably shouldn't have checked my bag for a bomb. They should have inspected the stage. And again, it was suicide time.

More successful, Grey Gardens is, of course, the musical based on ALBERT MAYSLES's cult documentary about the decrepit but still singing Edith and Edie Beale. Well, now Maysles is adding to the multimedia feasting by doing a documentary about the musical! (He's also helping MARTIN SCORSESE film his new doc about the ROLLING STONES. I guess with his longevity rate, MICK JAGGER will never be The Departed.) The musical, by the way, is in staunch shape—much better than the "28-room litter box" that houses blowsy Edith and bald Edie. Just wait till you see Jackie Kennedy meow!

A more wholesome household—with hair, yet—musically cavorts in the aforementioned Mary Poppins, so when a publicist left a message urging me to bring someone "age appropriate" to the show, I frantically started rummaging through my mind for any three-year-olds I know. (I almost called John Mark Karr.) But it turned out they meant we should bring someone mature—you know, old enough to not disrupt the performance during an all-important press night. Don't bring kids to Mary Poppins? Isn't that sort of like telling people not to take old hippies to the Dylan show? Sure, but in this case, it's no problem for me at all—I'm not Ronnie.

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