Directed by Ira Sachs (Love is Strange), Little Men is an indie feature that explores the themes of youth, family and friendship. It received a very limited release on the festival circuit throughout 2016, mainly sweeping festivals in the US.
The film tells the story of Brian Jardine (Greg Kinnear), his wife Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) and 13-year old son Jake (Theo Taplitz) who move into a Brooklyn apartment they’ve inherited from Brian’s recently deceased father. The apartment building includes a ground floor with a dress shop operated by Leonor (Paulina Garcia), whose teenage son Tony (Michael Barbieri) begins an immediate friendship with Jake. The friendship becomes strained, however, when a lease dispute occurs between their parents.
The film’s strength lies in its touching themes of friendship. The connection is wonderfully conveyed through the interactions between both boys, who each put in very good performances that draw up well-defined personalities – Tony is exuberant and interested in acting, while Jake is shy and focuses on his drawings.
The parents’ story is also quite fascinating, especially as tension rises gradually on each side. Kinnear and Ehle perform well, but it’s Paulina Garcia who is a particular standout as the emotionally guarded and intense mother of Tony. Of course, the focus is on the boys, and it’s their story that takes the spotlight.
The Brooklyn setting also provides a good backdrop for the narrative. The city is presented as a character of its own through Oscar Duran’s cinematography and Sachs’ direction. The locations are used well, given life and driving home cultural elements both visually (close-knit buildings, street design, cars) and through the convincing dialogue penned by Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias.
Unfortunately, despite only being 85 minutes in length, Little Men does have slow moments throughout, especially as the relationship between these young boys becomes overemphasised. The stories and characters weren’t developed enough, and while the parents aren’t the focus here, they were nevertheless fairly underutilised. Their scenes had potential, but were simply too brief and the air of missed opportunities – of pushing dramatic cues and tension ““ is evident. Little Men aims to be short and sweet, although it seems to have stuck with the former, running through the story rapidly and barely presenting anything specifically memorable to savour.
While it isn’t an absolutely necessary watch, Little Men does present an amiable look at themes of connection, friendship, youth and finding one’s true belonging in life. If you’re looking for a film that tugs at a few emotional chords, despite beingÂ fleeting in nature, this film might be what you’re after.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10