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Review: Little Men

August 5, 2016

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Little Men PosterFollowing the moving old age romance Love is Strange, director Ira Sachs returns with Little Men, another beautifully observed character study set against the backdrop of New York City, only this time focused on adolescents instead of seniors.

The film follows Jake (Theo Taplitz), a sensitive kid who spends his time painting and drawing, and has just moved with his struggling stage actor father (Greg Kinnear) and psychotherapist mother (Jennifer Ehle) from Manhattan to Brooklyn.  You see, Jake’s grandfather has recently passed away and left them his apartment in the will.

The apartment happens to be above a dress shop run by Leonor (Pauline Garcia), a Chilean immigrant whose outgoing son Tony (Michael Berbieri) instantly starts hanging out with Jake.  But their friendship is complicated by the fact that Jake’s parents have inherited her shop and want to triple the rent, which puts the adults in bitter dispute.  Because it’s her only source of income, Tony’s mother is reluctant to give up the shop, but can’t afford the increased price they are asking.  At first, the two boys are able to pretty much ignore their parents business dealings as they zip around the city, Tony on a kick scooter and Jake wearing roller skates, but the tension between the adults threatens to take its toll on their close bond.

The screenplay is so acutely and almost painfully aware of the challenges faced by real, working class people living in a city, and the increasing gentrification of New York, that every little moment of Little Men rings true.  It’s a touching drama that is quietly devastating in the way it shows a young friendship being threatened by the problems of the adults around them, in a world where the kids, try as they might, just can’t break free from their parents fighting.  Theo Taplitz and Michael Berbieri deliver a pair of engaging performances that carry the film.  The adults around them are equally solid, with wonderful work from Greg Kinnear and Pauline Garcia, who bring nuance to their clashing characters.

Like Sleeping Giant, Little Men also has subtly handled hints of burgeoning homosexual attraction in the way Jake sometimes looks at Tony, a theme that is rarely directly addressed, but provides powerful subtext to the story.  This is a film that is compelling for the little moments that it captures, be it a look or conversation between characters, that cuts deep emotionally and ends up revealing so much about these people.  This is a beautifully made drama that lingers in the mind, a film that understands adult troubles, and the effects they can have on kids who end up getting caught in the crossfire.

Little Men is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

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