Little Men (2016)
Cast includes: Theo Taplitz, Greg Kinnear (Little Miss Sunshine), Jennifer Ehle (The King’s Speech), Michael Barbieri (The Dark Tower), Paulina Garcia (Gloria), Alfred Molina (The Da Vinci Code)
Director: Ira Sachs (Love is Strange, Keep the Lights On)
Genre: Drama (85 minutes)
“What is this mess!” says the teacher returning to a noisy, chaotic classroom. The only quiet kid is Jake Jardine… working on his drawings. “Why is the sky green?” After Jake explains, the teacher has a word of caution: “Don’t forget Van Gogh cut off his own ear.” Mom and Dad—Kathy and Brian—are out unusually late. “Sorry about your granddaddy,” says the voice on the phone. Guess that explains where Mom and Dad are. We next see Jake, Mom and Dad in front of a little house in Brooklyn… there’s some background chatter about moving here. The woman and kid in front of the building are from downstairs… the little dress shop. “That’s her son, Antonio.” Jake and Tony are the same age, but they’re as different as night and day. Tony is never at a loss for words… except for the right words. “I think you’re supposed to say, ‘Sorry for your loss,’” says Jake. “Sorry for your loss.” “It’s ok.” “If you move in, I can show you around.” “I’m not sure we’re moving in.”
Leonor, Tony’s mom, bakes Max’s favorite cake for the wake, and we get the impression that Leonor is going to miss the old man, now that he’s gone. Kathy doesn’t return the cake plate until after they’ve moved from Manhattan into Max’s house. Downstairs, in the little shop, Kathy and Leonor exchange pleasantries, but we get the feeling it’s going to be a cool relationship. In the meantime, Jake and Tony have become fast friends. Tony loves Jake’s drawings, but when Jake goes looking for other drawings to show, he learns that they’ve been thrown out. “You can always make new ones,” says Dad. “New ones will never be like the others.” “You’ve got to learn to let go.” When Tony learns that Brian is an actor, that’s exciting news. “Maybe he’ll give me a couple of pointers”… Tony wants to get into LaGuardia High School for the Arts. In fact, Jake should apply to LaGuardia, too! They’ll love those drawings with green skies and yellow stars. Kathy and Brian are pleased that the boys get along so well. It may be the first time Jake’s had a real friend. In the meantime, Brian needs to have a “chat” with Leonor, if she’ll ever make time. It seems that Leonor already knows the topic of the chat. “Truth is, the neighborhood is changing, and that’s a very old-fashioned store,” says Brian’s sister… just pointing out the obvious.
This is a drama that plays out everywhere in America… gentrification. New people move in and things get pricier. What’s going to happen to the people who have roots in the neighborhood? Things would be a lot easier if Jake and Tony hadn’t become such great friends. Then it would just be a business transaction. The parents try to shelter the boys from the brewing conflict, but eventually there’s no way. Coming of age films are a popular genre, but most revolve around puberty and sexual awakening. Little Men is a coming of age film that’s entirely different and possibly more relevant. The film is beautifully nuanced in a way that lets us see the issues from everyone’s points of view. The cast is excellent, and the two boys are especially appealing. Adulthood may come in fits and starts, but certainly, one of the milestones is dealing with things that may not go as you think they should. Dad once told Jake he needed to learn to let go. But as Jake so rightly points out, there are things that can never be the same. The little men in this story are prepared to whatever it takes to make sure things turn out right in the end.
4 popped kernels
Teenage boys will do almost anything to solve the potential impact of gentrification on their friendship
Gender Style: Sensitive
Distribution: Art House
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism
Nutshell: Gentrification and friendship
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought Provoking