Little Men review: understated drama that subtly plays out intergenerational differences

Gentrification blues and family conflict is explored by the director of ‘Love Is Strange’

Film Title: LITTLE MEN

Director: Ira Sachs

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Alfred Molina, Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 85 min

Thu, Sep 22, 2016, 16:40

   

Following the death of his grandfather, shy, artistic Jake moves from Manhattan to Brooklyn, where the teenager’s parents have inherited an apartment above a shop. Jake is quickly befriended by Tony, a charismatic boy of similar age, and the son of Leonor (Paulina Garcia), a Chilean dressmaker who has operated out of the downstairs shop for many years.

The boys bond and set their collective sights on LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, which Tony talks up as the alma mater of “Nicky Minaj and Al Pacino”.

Jake’s parents – actor Brian (Greg Kinnear) and psychotherapist Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) – learn that Leonor has been leasing her store for a fraction of the going rate and, in consultation with Brian’s sister, seek to raise the rent.

Between rehearsals for a new production of The Seagull, Brian pleads with his new tenant. He is as passive-aggressive as she is stubborn. “Your father always said your sister was the brains of the family,” she hisses.

Jake and Tony respond to their parents’ squabbling with silent protest. Much blustering about “reality” ensues, and DOP Oscar Duran brings lovely, clean, orderly lines to freewheeling scenes in which teenagers hang out.

With action stopping just short of 85minutes, it would be easy to mistake Ira Sachs’ latest urban miniature as a trifle. Instead, this understated drama thumbs its nose at the business of gentrification but with delicately calculated movements.

Mauricio Zacharias’ nuanced screenplay insists that these Manhattan interlopers aren’t bad as people or parents. It’s just that, comparatively speaking, their priorities are screwy and they talk a good deal of nonsense.

Intergenerational differences are played out with subtle juxtapositions. When Tony gets into a brawl defending Jake’s honour, he and his opponent are soon swarmed by schoolmates chanting “Fight! Fight! Fight”. The resulting bruises aren’t pretty, but the fracas seems preferable to the hushed bitterness, bruising emotional truths and jobsworth-excuses of grown-up conflict.

It is left to the titular youths (Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri shine in their duties) to occupy the higher moral ground.