Ira Sachs moves his New York City centric storytelling style to Brooklyn
Little Men is no children’s movie. Love is Strange director Ira Sachs brings a charming sense of realism to his latest endeavor in a story about children and the parents who raise them. Little Men is a subtly gripping film, featuring some breakout performances.
In Little Men, alongside the director, the Jardine family’s move to Brooklyn following the death of our first little man Jake’s (Theo Taplitz) grandfather. It’s here that Jake, son of actor Brian (Greg Kinnear) and psychiatrist Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) meets Tony (Michael Barbieri), whose mother Leonor (Paulina Garcia) works at a dress shop in the same building, where she has been paying rent for years. Jake and Tony soon hit it off, and while their friendship flourishes beautifully, the relationship between the parents grows tense.
The onscreen chemistry between the two young adults is palpable and heartwarming. Taplitz gives a reserved performance that seems bumbling and low energy at first, but leads to brilliant final moments. He is smart, a painter, the quiet artist type. Barbieri plays opposite him in a boisterous breakout that is undeniably charming. His performance is the lifeblood of the film. On the surface, Tony is everything Jake is not – outgoing, witty, and a Brooklyn native, accent and all. But they share a core commonality. Tony is an actor, and is drawn to Jake for his passion and skill (the two vow to attend the same arts high school) but also his kindness. A scene where Tony is locked in an intense Meisner repetition exercise with his teacher is one of the highlights of the short run time, and a perfect example of Barbieri’s wonderful energy.
It’s the claim, then, of Little Men that try as these kids might, they’re not yet making decisions for themselves. The parents are. And they are making tough ones. Leonor refuses to pay an increased rent to the Jardines, implying a relationship with Jake’s grandfather that is left mysterious. This puts Brian in a tough spot as his sister pressures him to evict. Neither family is well off, both in need to different degrees. There is no right decision in this situation. The film is about the hardship of explaining what it means to be an adult to your children. Your choices will affect them and everyone involved will deal with the consequences. The final ten minutes are not depressing as such, but subtly heartbreaking. You wish they could have gone another way. But this is reality. There is no happy or sad ending, only what happens because it needs to.
Little Men is a coming of age tale for parents. The genuine spark that Sachs brings to his stories of the mundane can be found here, but be warned this is not a film kids will find much excitement in, despite the great leading performances. It is a movie by and for an older generation, with a lesson to teach parents of the future.
Little Men is coming to theaters nationwide on August 5 and screened at BAMcinemaFest 2016.