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REVIEW: Little Men

25 September 2016 | Stephanie Brandhuber

Subtly captivating and scrupulously observational, Ira Sach’s latest film Little Men is moving, human, and quietly bittersweet.

Ira Sachs is known for his delicate and carefully crafted portrayals of human relationships, best seen in his past films Love is Strange (2014) and Keep the Lights On (2012). Sachs is a true expert in magnifying life’s overlooked moments and interactions, which is precisely what he has done in his shrewdly realistic tale of gentrification and friendship in Little Men. Choosing to set his latest film in Brooklyn as opposed to his normal Manhattan backdrop, Ira Sachs presents a devastatingly nuanced look through the gaze of adolescence on the real-life effects of family feuds and a city's transformation .
                             
 Brian Jardine (Greg Kinnear) is a struggling actor who relies on his psychotherapist wife Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) to support the family financially, while their artistic 13-year old son Jake (Theo Taplitz) dreams of one day attending La Guardia High School as a budding artist. When Brian’s father dies, the family packs up their Manhattan home and moves into Brian’s late father’s Brooklyn apartment which comes with a storefront downstairs, occupied by Chilean dressmaker Leonor (Paulina Garcia). Leonor’s son Tony (Michael Barbier) instantly  befriends the quieter, more sensitive Jake and the two form a sudden, and deep friendship. This close bond that the two young boys develop only adds to the awkwardness that comes when Brian attempts to raise Leonor’s rent in order to support his family and his sister Audrey (Talia Balsam), after years of the shop’s rent remaining stagnant thanks to Leonor’s and Brian’s late father’s friendship. We see this bitter, passive-aggressive conflict over money unfold through the eyes of Tony and Jack, who can’t quite comprehend, thanks to their child naivety, why their parents can’t just see eye to eye over the matter.
 
What Ira Sachs offers us is a rarely-looked-at subject in most films: the realities of money troubles and the damaging effect it can have on the people involved. Little Men pits two distinct categories of New Yorkers against each other, both of whom have understandable points of view but neither offering  a clear-cut solution to their problems. The sensitivity with which Sachs approaches this subject matter and the raw humanism behind it is depicted in such a multi-layered manner that the impact of its telling is sure to stay with viewers long after they've left the cinema.
 
While this tale of two families in awkward conflict could have been potentially saccharine or even satirically comical, Sachs' approach to his film is so delicate and unobtrusive that he instead offers his viewers the opportunity to embody a wide-eyed spectator of the city, observant of life's intricacies, just as Tony and Jake see the world. This is also surely a testament to the two young actors' brilliant portrayals of their young adolescent characters and the love that and the deep connection that forms between them. Tony's bold, outgoing personality perfectly balances Jake's shyness and sensitivity and the friendship that forms between them is almost akin to a first love. Indeed, the film is at its best when the adult world of money problems is cut through with the natural optimism of the two young boys.
 
Little Men is a little story told with big heart. It is modest in its telling, yet bold in its courage to shine a light on real emotions felt in what could be a very real situation. Ira Sachs is truly proving himself to be a master of humanism and a expert in intelligent, thought-provoking cinema, and his latest film is not to be missed.
  
 4/5 stars
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