Coming-of-age movies usually deal with kids growing up. But sometimes, as Little Men
shows, the adults go through some growing pains, too.
is about a thirteen-year-old boy named Jake Jardine (Theo Taplitz in his first feature-length role) whose grandfather dies and leaves a Brooklyn building to Jake's father, Brian (Little Miss Sunshine
's Greg Kinnear), and mother, Kathy (Jennifer Ehle from Fifty Shades of Grey
). Since Brian is an under-employed actor, he decides to move the family from their expensive Manhattan home into the apartment on the second floor of the building. The first floor is occupied by a dress shop run by a Chilean lady named Leonor Calvelli (Gloria
's Paulina Garcia), and Jake quickly makes friends with the dressmaker's son, Tony (Michael Barbieri from the upcoming The Dark Tower
). However, a wedge is driven between the boys when Brian, noticing that Leonor was close with his father and had been paying an extremely reduced price for her store's space, raises the dress shop's rent. The boys just want to be kids and prepare for high school together, but the adult issues get in the way of their friendship.
Written and directed by Ira Sachs and co-written by his screenwriting collaborator Mauricio Zacharias (the pair also worked together on Love Is Strange
and Keep the Lights On
), Little Men
is a unique coming-of-age movie. Of course, the boys are the ones who come-of-age, but all of the stress and strife is not caused by the growing up, it's caused by the actions of all the adults around them. The lines between the men (and women) and the boys in the film are constantly blurred.
There are a couple of good script-flipping moments in the film that really drive that particular point home. In one, Tony, a budding thespian, is shown screaming in the face of his acting teacher as part of an exercise, and, after a while, the audience starts to wonder if the exercise is still going on or if Tony has just had enough of his instructor's authority. In another, the weight of Brian's father's death finally gets to him and he is shown having a meltdown, crying in a hallway from the grief that he had, until then, kept bottled up inside of him. Seeing Tony yell like an angry man and Brian cry like a young boy are two of the most powerful moments in the film.
Despite the heavy subject matter in the grown-up portions of the film, Little Men
is a surprisingly buoyant movie, and it's great that way. In the end, it's a well-told story about growing up and growing old. It's thoughtful, funny, and heartbreaking, and it accomplishes it all over the course of a little under ninety minutes.
Director Ira Sachs has a way of taking very serious and hot-button issues and turning them into pleasant and enjoyable films without ever treating the subject matter too lightly. While Love Is Strange
tackled unemployment and same-sex marriage, Little Men
deals with urban gentrification and the uncertainty of growing up. Both films make their points in ways that are not so difficult that the viewer becomes uncomfortable. In Little Men
, Sachs accomplishes this by having his movie focus on the charming friendship between Jake and Tony, and keeping most of the drama within the adult circles. Sure, there are tough moments, but in the end, Little Men
is about just that: the little men.
Sachs goes out of his way to illustrate and project the joy and adventure of growing up in New York City, so much so that Little Men
often feels like a love-letter to the Big Apple. Sachs chose to shoot the movie on location in Brooklyn, and he and director of photography Óscar Durán (Apartment 143
) make ample use of the neighborhood scenery, capturing many shots of Jake and Tony swooping through the borough on their rollerblades and razor scooters at a furious pace (and yes, it's set in the modern day, regardless of the nineties methods of transportation). While the city doesn't exactly become its own character in the film, it does make a great backdrop for the story, and Sachs could not have chosen a better setting for Little Men
, both for its aesthetic value and the timeliness of the film's gentrification message.