Little Men – Film Review by Lisa Jewell
Director: Ira Sachs
Stars: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Michael Barbieri, Theo Taplitz, Alfred Molina
Little Men’s central relationship – between two boys in their early teens – is forged in the first few minutes of the film. Aspiring actor Tony is full of confidence, in contrast to the artistic and introverted Jake.
When Jake’s grandfather dies, his family hold a wake at his Brooklyn apartment (where the two boys first meet) and then decide to move back into it full time. The family of three is pretty normal sized for New York – mum Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) is a psychotherapist and the breadwinner of the household, Brian (Greg Kinnear) is an accomplished theatre actor but isn’t financially making the grade and Jake (Theo Taplitz) is their only child.
Also part of their inheritance is a retail unit below the apartment. It’s leased to Tony’s mum Leonor who has been paying a low rent over the years and is more than happy with the status quo. But Brooklyn real estate hasn’t stayed static and soon she comes into conflict with Brian and his pushy sister Audrey about paying increased rent. The effect of this conflict on the two boys’ friendship is the central focus of the film and brings up themes of fairness, friendship versus self interest and innocence of childhood versus reality of life.
The film’s interest in the gentrification of New York is a familiar one if you saw Ira Sachs’ last film Love is Strange, which traced an older same sex couple who are forced to live apart when they can no longer afford Manhattan’s soaring rent. In some ways, Love is Strange is a more accomplished and broader film than Little Men when you compare them directly. Sachs’ signature style is a sense of underplaying rather than over dramatizing and the performances are quite subtle. Greg Kinnear seems particularly subdued when you think of him in previous roles – his role as the dad in Little Miss Sunshine is a standout moment in his career and definitely gave him a chance to prove his acting chops. But in terms of the performances in this film, his subdued delivery is perfectly in keeping with the rest.
Both teen actors come across as very natural and Michael Barbieri who plays the cool assured Tony is definitely one to watch for the future. Alfred Molina barely makes a cameo and you can’t help but wonder if some scenes ended up being chopped in the final cut. Paulina Garcia, who plays Tony’s mum Leonor, is better known in her native Chile and gives a very believable performance. If you haven’t seen Gloria, the Spanish language film she starred in back in 2012, you should definitely check it out.
Little Men is not a bad film. If you like nicely observed and subtle films, it’s a nice way to while away an hour and a half. But it’s not going to hit you that hard emotionally or leave a long lasting impression with its plot or its performances.