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LITTLE MEN (USA 2016) ***1/2
Directed by Ira Sachs
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina García, Alfred Molina
Review by Gilbert Seah
As Jesus said in the Bible, “And a child will lead them.” In the case of Ira Sach’s occasionally brilliant new film LITTLE MEN, pre-teens lead the way for the adults that have gone astray.
The film begins with the death of 13-year old Jake’s (Theo Taplitz) grandfather. Jake’s dad, Brian (Greg Kinnear) inherits the grandfather’s building and move in. Below is a store that the grandfather leases to a seamstress, Leonor (Paulina Garcia) and her son, Tony (Michael Barbieri). Trouble arises when Brian needs to raise the rent money as he is short of income. Leonor is unable to pay. A bad state of affairs result when Brian evicts Leonor.
Though premiering at the Toronto Inside Out LGBT film festival, there is no explicit gay theme on display in the film. The friendship that develops between the two boys hints that one might be gay (the other pines over a girl in he neighbourhood), but still one can never be sure. The hint arrives when Jake’s mind immediately rushes to think of Tony when asked to write a poem above love in his English class. No use in labelling. No matter whether one of the boys is gay or not, it is of no importance. Sach’s little film astounds in many avenues, particularly in the subtlety department. But the bond that exists between the two boys is nothing short of wonderful. They stand up for each other. Tony gets beaten up in school for Jake. Both boys refuse to talk to their parents when they learn that their parents are not getting along.
The film is seen mostly from the points of view of the two boys, which makes the film more interesting.
The script has two characters, Brian’s sister and Brian’s wife which could easily have been moulded into one character. They collectively could serve the same function as one person.
When Brian finally confesses the problem to his son Jake, Jake offers a solution so simple that the adage “and a child will lead them” comes to mind.
Films about kids often have them speak in adult dialogue that would unlikely come from them. This occurs regularly in many of Neil Simon’s plays, Woody Allen films and also in this film. But here at least, the boys still behave like boys. They play video games, ignore their parents, get into trouble (and fights) in school while growing up and learning about life. The great thing about all this is that they teach their parents a thing or two on the way.
Sach’s film succeeds tremendously from the performances of it two young actors. They are able to elicit sympathy and humour, strength and vulnerability in their characters. One of the best performances occurs in the segment in a training dialogue between Tony and his acting coach in his new school.
The film contains a non-Hollywood but rather clever under-stated ending. LITTLE MEN is a good example of how brilliant a little film with a good script and direction can turn out.
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