There’s something infinitely satisfying to the best independent dramas that come out and always seem to fly under the general public’s radar and that’s the ability to grab the whole orange of a characters life and just cut a segment of it for our consumption, a little flavorful piece of reality. Just last year we had a great representation of this in Josh Mond’s James White, where we were dropped into a pivotal time in the main focus’s life and it was uncertain if he would make it through this horrendous time intact, as most would just crumble. The pain and emotion is so real and raw that it’s palpable. This is something that never fails to grab me and not let go until it fades to black and the credits roll.
Little Men is just that same slice of life that I yearn for in these movies, though decidedly less dark and emotionally wrought as James White. Writer and director Ira Sachs has been making these pretty small and contained features since 2007’s Married Life but really shook up the festival audience with Love Is Strange in 2014, a film that won viewers over with how graceful and delightfully endearing it is. For this go around, Sachs turns his focus from two gay men battling the ugliness of adversity on the eve of their nuptials to two young boys that, through each other, find the avenues to bloom into the people they were unsure they could become before. Its another proving fact that this filmmaker can make a strengthened bond between his main characters that many bigger directors fall flat on their faces trying to do.
The film centres around young Jake Jardine (Theo Taplitz), a teenager who spends his time mostly alone working diligently on his art, something his stage actor father, Brian (Greg Kinnear), and supportive mother Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) are very adamant on pushing him on, so he can be ready for the next level of schooling. When Jake’s grandfather passes away, he is forced to relocate to the apartment building his family has inherited. Living and running a garment shop in the building is Leonor (Paulina Garcia) and her son Tony (Michael Barbieri), who becomes fast friends with Jake, his first actual friend. Together the two explore the city and become closer and closer.
In order to keep up with costs, Brian and his sister Audrey look to raise the rent significantly, putting Leonor in a pretty desperate situation, one that was supposed to be avoided as per an agreement with their father. As both sides are refusing to budge, the nastiness of the tactics escalate, eventually putting the boys right into the backlash of the situation. Naive and innocent to the issues not discussed with them, the boys try to resolve whatever problems themselves, which may just throw more wrenches into their parents dealings and make everything a whole lot worse.
It’s been said and proved before that sometimes, when dealing with a film led by young stars it can really be a shaky gamble. If your leads are weak on screen or wooden in nature, it can take all the wind out of your dramatic films sails as the audience is either bored or completely annoyed by the characters their supposed to be glued to for the duration of the story. In the case of actors Taplitz and Barbieri, their chemistry is effortless and on their own they are massively compelling and drive the film so well. I’m unsure if this could have worked with anyone else and I think Ira Sachs totally nailed the casting.
Another actor who seems to always go unnoticed is Greg Kinnear, starting as a talk show host before being mostly cast in comedy films for a while. In Little Men, as Jake’s father, he is massively pivotal in the evolution of his onscreen son being that as Jake starts to emerge more and evolve into his own separate person, Brian is very much stuck in his high class stage actor set ways and isn’t looking to change that. He has a vanity and ego that demands stroking and sees his own son’s success as an extra achievement for himself, rather than a growing platform for Jake to rise on.
The realism in indie dramas that I was waxing on about at the beginning of this film is what makes Little Men one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. No character makes an outlandish and unbelievable choice and we’re not led to believe that a Hollywood glossy ending is coming to us. Life is unpredictable, incredibly harsh at times and wonderfully surprising at others and Sachs seems to encapsulate life so beautifully and truthfully that Little Men will always be memorable for me just on this approach alone. This one is a must see and I give it a five out of five.