Little Men Review

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 Jardine (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.

Not everything is a big spectacle. Not everything has to be big action or have explosions or whatnot. It is definitely nice when these little films (no pun intended) come along every once in awhile and offer a nice change of pace in relation to all the other films out there. It is good to slow down and just be dazzled by great characters and stories. This one followed along those lines. The story was a tremendous showing of restraint and subtlety in that it seemed so simple but contained so much more beneath the surface. This was a surprise considering the relative short running time, clocking in at 85 minutes.

Jake (Taplitz) and his parents Brian (Kinnear) and Kathy (Ehle) move into a new house once his grandfather passes away. Here he meets another kid named Tony (Barbieri) and his mother Leonor (Garcia), who owns a shop downstairs. Over time, they become very good friends as they shared similar aspirations with Jake wanting to be an artist and Tony an actor. The film devoted a considerable amount of time to this as it was mostly about them and their relationship. They spent a lot of time together doing what 13 year old kids do. They were fun to watch together as their wonderful chemistry made their relationship very real and believable.

The film allowed this relationship to build while Brian discussed with Leonor the prospects of a new lease for her store. Because of the times, the suggested rent is much too high for her to afford. The Jardines are already a family that is better off so she feels like they are impeding on her livelihood. The kids managed to remain immune to this for the longest time as their scenes were used to lighten things and contrasting the relationships of both families from each end of the age spectrum. The conflict between each family eventually caught up with them, putting them in the middle of their feuding parents.

On the surface, the film is a coming of age story for each of the boys but is a commentary on themes such as gentrification, class structure, family, and loyalty. Jake and Tony are friends and are loyal but this feud put it to the test with them forbidden to see each other. This forced them in having to choose between each other and their families. This was also hard for them as they were too young to fully understand what was happening. This conflict was compelling to watch as the script did a terrific job at blanketing the story in realism.

The acting here was great throughout with Taplitz and Barbieri being the standouts. The two were dynamite together but Barbieri rose above Taplitz. Barbieri brought energy and charisma to the role, making him stand out in many scenes, often stealing them, through interactions with other characters. Kinnear was marvelous as Brian, a man who wants so much to do the right thing but isn’t always sure of the right way to do it. The film had an exceptional story but never really struck an emotional chord. The ending may disappoint some.

Overall, this was a fantastic, real coming of age story thanks to its exceptional script and featuring great performances but never struck an emotional chord.

Score: 9/10

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