Little Men





In director Ira Sachs newest film- Little Men, there is a fine line drawn between the parents and children, which reminds me of my childhood. There are the obvious differences in ages, but the way I saw it, the adults were from mars and kids like me were from venus. I remember the hot Chicago summers, where riding my bike was the way to get from point A to B, using the ten bucks my mom gave me to go to the local card store and blow it all on baseball cards, or spending days playing basketball with my best friend Patrick Boyle. Meanwhile, my parents were likely dealing with real issues. Electric bills, disagreements with co-workers, or in my mothers case, how we would survive from paycheck to paycheck. In Little Men, Sachs displays how these two worlds can intersect, when a dispute about money between the parents of two best friends, forces young men to grow up a little faster. This is a gentle, even heartbreaking film, that I loved. I would recommend it to people of all ages.

Jake Jardine (Theo Taplitz) is the shy son of his father Brian (Greg Kinnear)- a struggling actor, and his psychiatrist mother- Kathy (Jennife Ehle). When their grandfather passes away, the family moves into the Brooklyn two-flat he once owned. Running a small clothing shop in the unit below is Leonore (Paulina Garcia) and her son Tony (Michael Barbieri), a larger than life, aspiring actor. Along with the grief of loss, comes the connection of two families, specifically Jake and Tony, who both share an appreciation for the arts and playing video games. They spend their time lifting each other up, and discovering new parts of the neighborhood. Jake finds a friend that he never had, and Tony has someone he can be himself around. It's the kind of foundation for a friendship that lasts forever. That is, until the complicated nature of growing up gets in the way.

When Brian speaks with his sister (Talia Balsam) about the cost of rent situation for Leonore, it is revealed that his father allowed her to pay well below the typical rent for a unit of that size. Times are hard, and they need the market rate rental income from the shop. This causes a rift between the parents, and even forces the two boys to draw a line in the sand between their friendship and the family squabble. While the rent dispute grows more tense, arguments will take place, forcing dad to explain to Jake “One of the hardest things to realize when you are a child, is that parents are people too.” Growing up is hard to understand and being a grown-up is even harder.

Director Ira Sachs captures the very concept of living. The man who brought us 2014's Love is Strange, has become the quintessential auteur of a realistic, human New York. Scenes are broken up with Jake and Michael riding their bicycles around Brooklyn, which borrows from the youthful freedom of films such as The 400 Blows or the Dardenne brothers- The Kid with a Bike. Cinematographer Oscar Duran's shots take place along the streets, on lived-in backyard patios, or focusing on the Manhattan buildings that loom in the background.

What makes Little Men near perfect, is Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias's choice of never choosing sides in the dispute, which allows for a very genuine film. Leonore established herself in the neighborhood, where her means of living is set with the amount of rent she has paid. She seeks advice from her lawyer/friend, played by the always professional Alfred Molina. And for the Jardine's, that income is necessary in a struggling economy, especially when the market prices climb higher every year. It is a heartbreaking tale of authentic conflict, while it is rooted in the fact that anybody watching can relate to the stark situation these families are in, causing a strain on friendships and the relationships these people have.

I have nothing but praise for Little Men. There is a strong representation of what it means to be a young male, without the macho ego, or the pressures from fellow peers. It falls short of 4 stars because I wanted one of the performances to shine brighter, with Greg Kinnear displaying flashes of dramatic strength, while young Michael Barbieri and Theo Taplitz show the promise of two budding superstars. While this may be just a little film, about Little Men, to me it is a giant success. I see this movie lingering around my Top 10 all year. Have a big heart and go see it.

3 ½ Stars

Written by: Leo Brady