Keith Behrman’s Giant Little Ones is going to have its flaws. It at least it has a good protagonist in Franky Winter (Josh Wiggins). And Wiggins’ performance isn’t necessarily a breakthrough but he exudes a familiar precociousness. Most LGBT audiences forgive films that depict them for having lead actors who don’t come off as LGBT. And I can’t speculate on Wiggins’ sexuality. So either he’s really good at playing gay or that the cast found the right person.
Franky is one half of the film’s core friendship, the other being Ballas Kohl (Darren Mann). Just like most straight white boys, they have gay panic. This is worse for Franky because his dad Ray (Kyle McLachlan) is gay. But straight societies are equally homophobic as they are homo-social. Franky and Ballas do everything together, like short bike rides to school, where they’re on the swim team together.
Eventually, Franky’s gay panic bears fruit in Franky’s kind of disastrous 17th birthday party. There, he planned to lose his virginity to his girlfriend Priscilla or Cil (Hailey Kittle). This would dispel Cil’s thoughts that he doesn’t really find her attractive. But her parents told her to go home, ruining said plans. This made him and Ballas end up on the same bed together. This can end up in a few ways, ways that limit the film.
The most diplomatic way for Giant Little Ones to end is that the two don’t talk about what happened. But someone has to explain why Ballas doesn’t want to hang out with Franky anymore. So, Ballas tells everyone that Franky sexual advances ruined their friendship. The film adds a bigger hurdle in front of Franky. The revelation of his sexuality is a problem for the other people in his swim team, including and especially Ballas.
In comes Ballas’ sister Natasha (Taylor Hickson). The victim of a slut shaming campaign, she’s standoffish when it comes to dealing with Franky. But now, the school has ostracized both of them. So she becomes the obligatory ‘girl’ in between the two former friends. And in a genre where words matter, Natasha’s presence complicates Franky’s sexual journey. One that, according to the film, should be complex anyway.
At Giant Little Ones packs a lot on information and plot points in the very beginning. Gay father. The friendship and its possible dissolution. There’s even a scene exposing both the homophobia and the terrible manifestations of allyship and compromise within the swim team. One boy, Connor (Evan Marsh), targets the first out team member (Carson MacCormac), producing a problematic yet less messy fallout.
Nonetheless, where gay male films falter, and unforgivably so in Giant Little Ones, is how it writes its female characters. The first is Natasha. Despite some archetypal variations, the film still filters her pain under Franky’s perspective. Then there’s Cil, perpetually scowling at the background after hearing about Franky’s dalliance. There’s also Franky’s mother Carly (Maria Bello). As good as Maria Bello is, she can’t save Carly’s innate obliviousness and emotional volatility.
This is also emblematic of recent Canadian cinema that scrubs its films of any evidence of Canadian-ness. It also thinks that one of two twists will distract audiences. No matter what, it’s still drawing from the same homogeneous well. This film’s whole point is that teenagers are terrible. So terrible that they incite violence against their own when they see something different about the person they’re singling out. Um, duh.