I found this wonderful film on Prime. It is well acted by all and nicely directed by Ira Sachs who co-wrote the script with Mauricio Zacharias. It’s almost haunting as you watch and root for the players.
“Despite dissimilarities, two middle-school boys from one-child households (Jake and Tony) form a natural friendship when Jake moves with family into his recently deceased grandfather’s Brooklyn apartment above the dress shop business of Tony’s mother. Extrovert Tony plays soccer, desires to become an actor (like Jake’s father) and is sociable, while introvert Jake likes to draw, build his portfolio and be somewhat reclusive. Their best friend status is challenged by Jake’s parents inheriting ownership of the building where Tony’s mother runs her dress business, asking for three times the rent she previously paid within the upscaling neighborhood. The boys retaliate with silence, but it will likely not be enough.” — statmanjeff
The two middle-school boys, Tony and Jake, seem to be the adults in their families. They had an almost instant connection. Jake’s dad is an actor, who does a good job, but has never hit the big time and therefore struggles financially. His wife earns most of the money for the family. Tony’s parents remain married, but live separately. The father travels a lot to Africa and the mother runs a dress shop in the building Jake’s grandfather owned.
Tony Calvelli: [describing his father’s infrequent returns home] We seem like a normal family, and then – boom – they start fighting about something stupid, like always, and… I realize it’s better when he’s not around.
It’s fun to watch the two boys just travel around and outside their New York neighborhood. Tony on his foot scooter and Jake on his skates. They take turns passing each other, but they arrive at their destinations together. Tony has aspirations as an actor and Jake sees himself as an artist, although he has done some acting.
One of my favorite scenes (you’ll see it in the trailer) is a face-to-face ad lib shouting match between Tony (Michael Barbieri) and his much older acting instructor. Both boys are hoping to be accepted at New York’s Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.
Official trailer – imdb.com/video/vi4158501913
Michael Barbieri (Tony) was accepted at New York’s Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts after the film premiered.
About the miracle of friendship
American philosopher William James said that, “Reality, life, experience, concreteness, immediacy, use what word you will, exceeds our logic, overflows, and surrounds it.” This statement is especially true for children whose goals and dreams are subject not only to the real problems they face but are in part determined by their parent’s ability to handle their own lives. Ira Sachs affecting drama, Little Men, looks at life from the point of view of two young men on the cusp of adolescence whose friendship is threatened by a family squabble that has no easy solution. Co-written by the director and Mauricio Zacharias, the film follows on the heels of Sachs’ 2014 Love is Strange, the story of a gay couple and how they are forced to vacate their New York City residence as a result of gentrification, a theme that plays also role in Little Men.
13-year-old boys, Jake (Theo Taplitz), a non-observing Jew and Tony (Michael Barbieri), who goes to Catholic school, are drawn together when Jake’s parents, Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), move into an apartment in Brooklyn vacated after the death of Jake’s grandfather. The apartment is located above a dress shop rented by his grandfather’s long-time friend, Chilean seamstress Leonor (Paulina Garcia, “Gloria”), who has been paying a lower rent as a result of their friendship. The boys possess exceptional artistic talent. Jake is a painter who hopes that his portfolio will land him in the LaGuardia School of the Performing Arts, even as his drawing of yellow stars against the background of a green sky is dismissed by his middle-brow, middle-school teacher.
Compared to the sensitive Jake who keeps to himself and has few friends, Tony, an aspiring actor, is outgoing with excess energy to burn, a dynamo whose best scene is a back-and-forth exchange with his drama coach, an exercise in letting go of restraint and reaching for full self-expression. Speaking rapidly with a Brooklyn accent, Tony, who wants to join Jake in the LaGuardia School, puts on a good act of being on top of things but the sadness stemming from the lack of his father in his life is visible. One is reminded of the Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri’s reflection that, “the need to create art is often connected to a need to heal something.”
Brian informs Leonor that he has to triple her rent because his acting roles bring in little money and he does not want to have to completely rely on his wife’s income. Though he tries to reach an amicable agreement, his position strengthens Leonor’s intransigence and encourages Brian’s sister (Talia Balsam) to push for her eviction in order to bolster the family’s income. As their familys bicker, Jake and Tony try their best to stay away from the conflict, riding their roller blades and scooters around the neighborhood with joyous abandon to the energizing score of Dickon Hinchliffe suggesting that this moment of their youth will last forever. Unfortunately, however, all the parents only dig in their heels: Leonor, snarkily, asserts that she was closer to Brian’s father than he was and Kathy tells Leonor that she is trained in conflict resolution though she does not offer any such resolution.
As Jake and Tony’s friendship becomes strained, they embark on their secret weapon – the silent treatment – but the children’s weapons against their more powerful parent’s ends, as it often does in heartfelt tears. Little Men is a thoughtful and moving film that contains some of the year’s most honest and nuanced performances from Taplitz, Barbieri and Kinnear. There are no villains in the film and each character has what is on the surface a reasonable position, but what is lost is the compassion to step back and see things from a broader perspective, one that transcends immediate needs.
END OF REVIEW
Usually, I only present a portion of several reviews, but the above review said it all. I watched the film twice on my own and a third time with my wife. On great films and bad films and those in-between I always like discussing the various points and themes with Peg. We generally agree, but it’s nice to have various scenes and dialog commented on that perhaps slips past unnoticed. Sometimes you just want to savor even the little pieces of business as well as the overall direction and decide if the journey was worth the time. For Little Men, it was well worth the time and attention.