Little Men (2016)

  • Time: 85 min
  • Genre: Drama | Family
  • Director: Ira Sachs
  • Cast: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Theo Taplitz, Paulina García


A new pair of best friends have their bond tested by their parents’ battle over a dress shop lease.

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  • With his previous effort Love is Strange and now with the beautifully calibrated Little Men, writer-director Ira Sachs proves himself the master of the subtle but seismic shifts that derive from seemingly banal circumstances. Little Men is nominally a coming-of-age tale anchored in the friendship between contrasting opposites but simpatico souls Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri), but it also encompasses perceptive observations on displacement and gentrification, familial chasms, and the fact that sometimes there is no right or wrong but simply what is.

    The death of Jake’s grandfather sets off the chain of events that unfolds over the course of the film’s 85-minute running time. The shy and withdrawn Jake is befriended by the brash and gregarious Tony as Jake is on his way to his grandfather’s funeral reception. The boys’ rapport is quick and easy in marked contrast to the friendly but tense relationship between Jake’s parents, Brian and Kathy (Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle), and Tony’s mother Leonor (Paulina García). Brian, a struggling actor currently appearing in a profit-share production of Chekhov’s The Seagull, has been bequeathed his father’s Brooklyn brownstone, a gesture which seems to signal the end of his financial worries. Leonor runs a middlingly successful dressmaking business out of the brownstone’s ground floor storefront.

    Problems arise over the shop’s rental income to which Brian is entitled and which his sister (Talia Balsam) presses him to renegotiate since their father had never raised the cost. Brian would rather not broach the subject, especially since he doesn’t want to jeopardise the boys’ friendship, but he has no choice – his wife has essentially been supporting their family all these years with the income from her psychotherapy. Leonor attempts emotional appeals, pointing out that his father looked upon her as family and that he wished she and the store would always be part of the fabric of the neighbourhood. Brian is swayed, but her appeals also stoke his insecurities about his manhood and his relationship with his father.

    Throughout all this, the boys try to ignore the conflict by simply being boys – roaming around the neighbourhood on their skates and scooters, playing video games, talking about their favourite YA novels, and their future ambitions (Jake hopes to be an artist whilst Tony wants to be an actor). They unite against their parents by giving them the silent treatment but, as Jake discovers in a heartbreaker of a scene, such disputes can’t be solved by naive clarity. Sachs and co-screenwriter Mauricio Zacharias display a remarkable impartiality – both families are doing the best they can but their actions and reactions to the circumstances are recognisably human, with both parties guilty of miscalculations due to misperceptions.

    Everyone is formidably fine, with the two youngsters truly doing some outstanding work.

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