We are showing another film that was hailed by critics in 2016 and was in the Guardian’s top ten best films, for its ‘beautifully observed study of a liberally inclined family with money worries, and the effect it has on their son’.
When 13-year-old Jake’s (Theo Taplitz) grandfather dies, his family moves from Manhattan back into his father’s old Brooklyn home. There, Jake befriends the charismatic Tony (Michael Barbieri), whose single mother Leonor (Paulina Garcia), a dressmaker from Chile, runs the shop downstairs. Soon, Jake’s parents Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), one a struggling actor, the other a psychotherapist, ask Leonor to sign a new, steeper lease on her store. For Leonor, the proposed new rent is untenable, and a feud ignites between the adults. At first, Jake and Tony don’t seem to notice; the two boys, so different on the surface, begin to develop a formative kinship as they discover the pleasures of being young in Brooklyn. Jake aspires to be an artist, while Tony wants to be an actor, and they have dreams of going to the same prestigious arts high school together. But the children can’t avoid the problems of their parents forever, and soon enough, the adult conflict intrudes upon the borders of their friendship.
Ira Sachs’ smallest film in more ways than one, Little Men is a crushingly beautiful coming-of-age story that suggests the director only grows sharper as he narrows his gaze. Following the shattering Keep the Lights On and the bittersweet Love Is Strange, Sachs’ third consecutive movie about life in the margins of the metropolis further solidifies his status as one of New York City’s most insightful ambassadors, delicately marrying the displacement that defined his previous work with a newfound sense of possibility. A nuanced portrait of a city in flux (or decline) that uses the impressionableness of adolescence to shake our own understanding of gentrification and its residual effects, Little Men is that rarest of beasts, a truly hopeful heartbreaker.
It is cast wonderfully well, Taplitz’s foal-like fragility playing right off against Barbieri’s Travolta swagger-in-the-making, and the shots of them gliding through the streets on roller blades are almost dream-like in their intensity, capturing a moment that’s soon going to slip through time’s fingers. Perhaps America’s most underrated actor, Greg Kinnear puts in a towering performance as the loving father, so mired in the bottomless disappointment of his own mediocre life that it indelibly taints his advice to his son, who really needs inspiring positivity rather than dire warnings. Yes, life is complicated, love is strange, but what’s so affecting about Sachs’s film is its ultimate belief that the kids will, somehow, be all right.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall