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Little Men - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Little Men
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-

Little Men is easily overlooked. It shouldn't be. (I caught it late in its local theatrical run; it plays only through tomorrow at Sundance Cinemas in Seattle. But you should look for it on your streaming services.) This is a quietly powerful film about young friendship, and in particular intimacy between boys that is otherwise never seen in cinema, and its deeply affecting impact belies its seemingly simple surface appearances.

It's too bad the mere mention of "intimacy between boys" immediately brings sexuality to mind. To be certain, these boys are 13 years old, their sexuality just blossoming. That's not what this is about, although Tony (Michael Barbieri) does indicate interest in a girl. It's nice to see him face rejection at a party with ease. This is a kid who is unusually at ease with himself. If only we all could have been that way at that age. Jake (Theo Taplitz) is a bit different, a quiet artist. There are subtle hints that Jake could be gay, actually -- when asked about who he likes, he says things like, "I never thought about it." There's no direct indication that he's interested in boys, but he clearly isn't thinking about girls.

But that's not what this story is about. Jake has trouble making friends, usually keeps to himself. But he meets Tony when attending his grandfather's memorial service in his old apartment above the retail space that was also owned by his grandfather, and where Tony's mother works as a dress maker. Tony's mother (Paulina García) had a very close relationship with Jake's grandfather, much closer than he was to Jake's dad (Greg Kinnear, who deserves more parts than he seems to get). Jake's parents need to sell the property, or else ask Tony's mother for three times as much in rent. They have their own financial needs.

This happens well after Jake and Tony become fast friends, to young kids who don't bicker and seem genuinely respectful of each other and enjoy each other's company. They become inseparable before the resentments between their parents force some separation: not wanting to deal with each other, they stop letting the kids stay over night at each other's places. The adult problems between the parents needlessly complicates the boys' friendship.

There's nothing really attention-grabbing here, no overt drama. There's just the hurt of people who are victims of unfortunate circumstances. Tony's mother gets a little petty, but this is an animalistic response: lashing out when cornered. No one in particular is at fault. It's always refreshing to see characters in movies dealing with problems like civilized people who are actually sympathetic to those who feel forced to become enemies.

There is a certain selfishness to these parents. They let their own problems blind themselves to the lives of their children. The boys are at an age when they are just starting to comprehend such adult problems. When Jake finally comprehends the consequences of his friend's family being forced out of their home, his desperation is perfectly conveyed by the boy who plays him. Given the circumstances, it's impossible not to be moved.

That is the overall nature of Little Men, really -- a perfect title, by the way. I had difficulty trusting the lack of tension between Jake's parents; they seemed to get along a little too well, especially given what they're going through. But maybe I'm just projecting. The story is about the boys anyway; the parents may cause the trouble but they are still supporting players. The boys are both very naturalistic performers, giving them a particularly convincing skill for realism. Living in Manhattan and Brooklyn, their world is certainly different from that of kids in just about any other city, but there's still a universality to the stage of their development -- young kids, adult problems: little men.

And there are no horrible tragedies. These are simple, common issues people face, particularly in the world of gentrification in a volatile economy. That doesn't make the issues any less real, and few movies are as real as Little Men.

Michael Barbieri and Theo Taplitz have their friendship complicated by their parents in LITTLE MEN.

Overall: B+
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