For the second consecutive film, Ira Sachs has cast a light over the complex, stress-inducing nature of the New York property market; and yet where his preceding picture Love is Strange adopted the perspective of an elderly gay couple, in Little Men we peer in through the eyes of teenage boys, and new best friends, Jake and Tony. In doing so, Sachs thrives in the notion of futility, taking a blissful perspective to emphasise how us adults can get so caught up in trivial issues of this nature, we can lose sight of what really matters: love, family and friendship.
When Brian’s (Greg Kinnear) father dies, he relocates to the now vacant apartment in Brooklyn with his wife Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) and son Jake (Theo Taplitz). Stationed above a family-run store, managed by Leonor (Paulina Garcia) – the latter was very close with Brian’s deceased father and was granted some leeway when it came to the price of rent. The new tenants, however, are not quite so forgiving, and request a fairer price – or else the shop will have to close. But Leonor’s son Tony (Michael Barbieri) has formed a close affinity with Jake, becoming inseparable across the past few weeks. Yet the ongoing contract dispute threatens to put an end to their fledging friendship.
Sachs has crafted a feature that ensures you remain completely neutral – of course empathetic to the teenage boys, but you understand the parents concerns. You even see both sides of that argument too, appreciating that Brian needs a fairer rent, and comprehending why Leonor is reluctant to pay. It’s intriguing to watch events unravel through the eyes of the teenagers, and yet naturally understand them from those of the parents, and you never get bogged by down by the dispute either, despite remaining emotionally engaged throughout.
Sachs has this remarkable aptitude for finding the tenderness in life and yet never once compromising on the harsh severities of the real world.
Little Men is simply charming cinema; so congenial, and yet profound and moving too. Sachs has this remarkable aptitude for finding the tenderness in life and yet never once compromising on the harsh severities of the real world. The way the filmmaker seems to understand his youthful protagonists is commendable too, not patronising them to a point where the dialogue seems puerile; but then it’s not overtly intellectual and evidently coming from an adult writer. It’s authentic, and allows the characters this freedom to think for themselves, albeit spiked with a certain, endearing naivety.
The performances, across the board, are impressive too – with the young Barbieri standing out. Comparisons (though seeming somewhat far-fetched) to a young Marlon Brando are not too far off the mark, and there’s one scene so good – where he practises an acting technique with his drama teacher – that is so compelling it was granted a huge round of applause during the screening of the film. A scene, and film, that simply demands a second viewing.