Thursday, November 17, 2016

[Review] Little Men

Attentive humanist Ira Sachs is the director of intimate and observational adult-geared dramas like Keep the Lights On and Love Is Strange. With his latest film, Little Men, he keys into the perspectives of--as the title suggests--two young boys, and it's his best work to date.

Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri) are new best friends in Brooklyn. Their opposite personalities truly complement each other. While Jacob is reserved, stately and studious, Tony is brash and rough around the edges (he throws down during a cafeteria fight at school). But they do share a common dream--they both want to be artists when they grow up. Oh yeah, and they love playing video games. Their warm bond is tested when their parents engage in a legal battle (that becomes personal) over the lease of a struggling local dress shop.

It might not sound like the most compelling plot, but there's a lot of nuanced emotion and impressive realism here, displaying the power in subtlety. The tone is expectedly low-key and serious, however there's a particularly riotous scene that takes place at an acting class when Tony gets into an extended shouting match with the course's eccentric teacher. It's one of the most amusing scenes of the film, and it's by far the loudest. The rest is immensely quiet, mining for drama in muted moments, especially as the conflicts of Jacob and Tony's respective parents sadly trickle down to them.

The performances are all really good and natural. The kid actors Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri are easy standouts, while Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia (who was terrific as a lead in the Chilean film Gloria), and Alfred Molina round out the solid supporting cast of adults.

Little Men hits some delicate notes of poignancy in the end. It's small business. But it's significance business.

( 8/10 )

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