Adults ruin all the fun!
After the death of his grandfather, Jake (Theo Taplitz) and his parents move into his apartment complex in Brooklyn. There, he meets Tony (Michael Barbieri) a young Hispanic kid who shares the same fun interests that Jake does and also happens to always be around the area a whole lot. It’s a solid friendship that’s built mostly on their shared love of video-games and acting, but beyond them, there’s something far more serious going on. Jake’s parents, Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), have inherited mostly all of what the grandfather had, including the thrift store located underneath them. The thrift store is currently being run and maintained by Tony’s mom, Leonor (Paulina Garcia), who seems perfectly comfortable with her business, even if she knows that her time is going to be quite limited there, what with rent getting higher and higher in the area. Now feeling the push from Brian to pay the necessary amount of rent to stay, Leonor starts to pull Tony further and further away from Jake, leading to the boys giving their parents the silent treatment, as most kids their age are perhaps most known for doing.
The best thing about Little Men is that writer/director Ira Sachs, who I’ve never been quite a huge fan of, never seems to judge a single person in this whole entire movie. Every character here acts in a selfish manner, somehow, none of them are ever seen as “the bad guys”, nor are the others seen as “the good guys”. If anything, everyone here is just a person – they all make their own choices, decisions and matters in life, regardless of whether or not they’re actually the right, or smart ones, to make.
And that’s why, for all of its small, understated moments, Little Men is quite the flick.
It’s the kind that moves at such an efficient pace that you hardly even realize that it’s just barely under-an-hour-an-a-half, but feels way shorter. With his past few movies, Sachs has shown that he’s not afraid to settle things down with his plots and keep them as languid as humanly possible, but because of that, they tend to just be boring. Here, it’s very different; with what feels like it was a very quick-shoot, with barely any time to waste, Sachs creates a very quick, but meaningful tale of growing up and also, getting older.
See, if anything, Little Men is a coming-of-ager that’s actually painfully honest about getting older and trying to see the world, not just through your own, rapidly maturing eyes, but through your parent’s as well. Sachs does a smart job of showing us not only why this situation is bad for the two kids at the center of the flick, but why it’s bad for all of the parents, too; after all, they are the ones who are having this disagreement, not the little ones. How this one situation affects just about everyone around them is important and more specifically, handled so well by Sachs, who seems to give each and every character some sort of detail that makes them more inherently interesting as the time goes by.
It’s also the cast who are all quite great, too, especially the kids at the center.
While I’ve never seen them in anything before, both Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri are great here and not only feel like actual, real life kids, but their friendship is an interesting one that could have definitely been its own movie, what without all of the parents bickering at one another happening on the sidelines. Taplitz is just the right amount of dorky and artsy, whereas Barbieri is just the right amount of brass and sharp, but together, they actually do work as pals; they both have a love for acting that shines through in a great scene, but they also seem to get along whenever they aren’t focusing on acting. Sachs perfectly shows what it’s like to get to know someone when you’re young and just figuring yourself out, while at the same time, figuring out how that fellow person is going to factor into your life as you get older. It’s a beautiful relationship that, yes, at times does seem like it’s going to lean into some sexual areas, but surprisingly, doesn’t.
It’s just sweet and nostalgic.
As for the older folks in the cast, they all do fine jobs. Greg Kinnear turns in a very raw performance as Jake’s downtrodden dad, Jennifer Ehle is good as the psychiatrist mom who may think a little too hard, Talia Balsam is good as the snarky, sometimes mean-spirited aunt, and Paulina Garcia, as Jake’s mom, does a nice job, but her role is the one I had the most problem with, the same as I had with Naomie Harris’ in Moonlight. As Leonor, Garcia has a tough role in that she has to be a little unsympathetic, yet, at the same time, still sympathetic to us, if that makes any sense. The role is there for her to take, but for some reason, I couldn’t help but thinking that Garcia downplays the role way too much; when she should be engaging in some sort of conversation with the characters who are speaking to her, she just sits away, smokes her cigarettes, and then breaks into random, unbelievable monologues.
She reminded me of a femme fatale that you’d find in a noir, as opposed to a small, intimate indie, where real people talk, act and exist. Garcia was great in Gloria and Narcos, which makes me disappointed to see that her role, while clearly important, also feels like the most unbelievable aspect of the whole thing. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but I don’t think that I am: When your whole movie is based on the realistic look and feel, it’s hard to really accept the moments where something doesn’t ring true and just feels like a writer, well, writing.
Consensus: With a smart direction and cast, Little Men is an interesting, emotional and sometimes relateable tale of growing up, not just for kids, but for parents as well.
8.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire