Little Men

Review by Trevor Johnston

Directed by

Ira Sachs

Starring

Greg Kinnear Jennifer Ehle Paulina Garcia

Anticipation.

Ira Sachs really found his voice with Love is Strange, hopefully it wasn’t a one-off.

Enjoyment.

If anything, this is even better, turning everyday happenings into a micro-epic about the making of masculinity.

In Retrospect.

The film’s sheer delicacy exerts a continuing fascination.

Writer/director Ira Sachs strikes movie gold with this everyday epic about the making of masculinity.

He’s been making features for 20 years, but it seemed that with Love is Strange, Memphis-born, New York-based writer/director Ira Sachs reached critical mass. Arthouse audiences really responded to lovely old gay couple John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as they were suddenly cast adrift on the Manhattan property market. Yet the film had so much more to offer, not least a tantalising portrait of friendship between two inseparable teenage boys. Parents, needless to say, jumped to conclusions about their sexuality, though Sachs, himself openly gay, did not – refusing to over-delineate the specifics of the abiding connection between them.

As it happens, all that was but a trial run for this latest offering, which, if anything, delivers an even more diaphanous portrayal of formative maleness, featuring an adolescent duo whose relationship is again tricky to define. Moreover, since property values are indeed the international language of the middle classes, Sachs uses a saga about Brooklyn gentrification as a sort of bourgeois lure, conjuring up a scenario where nice couple Greg Kinnear (as a struggling off-Off-Broadway actor) and Jennifer Ehle (a therapist who’s the real breadwinner) inherit a flat which comes with a retail unit below – currently occupied by a kindly Chilean dressmaker (Paulina García) whose rather generous lease is about to expire.

Conflict looms, but that doesn’t stop the two same-age boys from upstairs and downstairs instantly hitting it off. Kinnear’s shy, arty son (Theo Taplitz) comes out of his shell around his outgoing Hispanic neighbour (Michael Barbieri), who in turn values the former’s advice given his aspirations to attend a prestigious performing arts school.

Somebody somewhere will no doubt use the term ‘bromance’ to describe what passes between them, but that’s crassly wide of the mark. In a seemingly curious reference point, Sachs nicks a plot device from Yasujiro Ozu’s silent classic I was Born, But…, having the two kids here also take a vow of silence in response to sharpening hostilities between the parents. In fact, Ozu’s portrait of naughty scamps at their most carefree is duly relevant, since Little Men captures its subject at a point just before they lose an innocent receptivity to all that’s beautiful in this world and enter the adult realm of sexual anxiety and, well, stuff like bickering over rental values.

Done badly, all this could play like a tired middle-aged fake take on glorious youth, but Sachs summons up a chaste sincerity that’s somehow achingly free of cynicism. He’s cast wonderfully well, Taplitz’s foal-like fragility playing right off against Barbieri’s Travolta swagger-in-the-making, and the shots of them gliding through the streets on roller blades are almost dream-like in their intensity, capturing a moment that’s soon going to slip through time’s fingers.

A word too for America’s most underrated actor, Greg Kinnear, who puts in a towering performance as the loving father, so mired in the bottomless disappointment of his own mediocre life, that it indelibly taints his advice to his son, who really needs inspiring positivity rather than dire warnings. Yes, life is complicated, love is strange, but what’s so affecting about Sachs’s film is its ultimate belief that the kids will, somehow, be all right.

Published 21 Sep 2016

Tags: Ira Sachs

Anticipation.

Ira Sachs really found his voice with Love is Strange, hopefully it wasn’t a one-off.

Enjoyment.

If anything, this is even better, turning everyday happenings into a micro-epic about the making of masculinity.

In Retrospect.

The film’s sheer delicacy exerts a continuing fascination.

Read More

Love Is Strange

By David Jenkins

The amazing chemistry between the two leads of this gay NY romance is sadly brushed to the side.

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The US writer/director of Love is Strange and Little Men on indie cinema, Ozu and climbing mountains.

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