With passion, awkwardness, and a sudden need to become able to handle complex situations, the two title characters carry the burden in Ira Sach’s new drama. The problems and concerns they face are monetary, societal, familial, pubescent, and interpersonal, their lives as middle school students in living in a gentrifying Brooklyn neighbourhood offering plenty of fun and frustration.
When his father dies, Brian Jardine (Greg Kinnear) takes over the lease of a highly-valued building that isn’t quite raking in the income that it could potentially. His father it seems was quite content, but these times are a changing, and as a hard working theatre actor, Brian and his family aren’t quite making enough, though his wife Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) is a therapist. While they take over the apartment, the ground-floor tenant is Leonor (Paulina Garcia) who has been running a dress shop there for years, enjoying a rent-controlled space at the insistence of Brian’s generous father.
We don’t quite know exactly the reasons why he never raised the rent – it has to do with love – but economic forces of the neighbourhood now threatens her livelihood.
And that of her son Tony (Michael Barbieri) as well, who quickly develops a friendship with Brian’s son Jake (Theo Taplitz). Her husband travels often we’re told, but she is visited frequently by a friend, played by Alfred Molina. Whereas once she was coming to the neighbourhood, now the Jardine’s are new in town.
So Tony and Jake develop a blossoming friendship, in and out of school, with aims to be actors and artists, unaware of the potential problems their parents are going to have. You can say there is love in the air, but it’s not what you think; it’s a bromance too, but they’re not bro-y. It’s a coming-of-age film, but would never present itself really as such.
The entirely of Little Men passes by casually, though neither with precision nor total carelessness. Instead, this mostly quiet film, which has some short and seemingly strange scenes as well as the occasional awkward transition, has a feeling of growing up. Like the two main boys, the film can can charming, stubborn, and boring from one moment to the next. Which I suppose is the point.
There are lots of laughs and some shouting, but that’s really the only fanfare, and as is his nature, Sachs’ movie feels authentic in that it’s not entirely polished; he’s one who prefers little to no rehearsal.
The two actors are fitting as well, taking on their first major roles, proving captivating and realistic in their sometimes inability to communicate effectively. These aren’t glib superheroes or longtime buddies with a shorthand; instead their two kids with different backgrounds forming a friendship, which isn’t always easy.
Sachs’ has the parents push and pull as they talk and later argue and fight, but it’s all through the lens of the children, their tender relationship more interesting and more important. While the adults don’t necessarily take them seriously in the movie, thankfully Sachs’ does.