Little Men : A Film Review


Little Men 

The listing

Directed by Ira Sachs and Co-written by Mauricio Zacharias and Ira Sachs. Duration … 1hr 25mins, Cert. PG. Country …United States, Language … English, Cast. Jennifer Ehle … Kathy Jardine, Paulina García … Leonor Calvelli, Talia Balsam … Audrey, Clare Foley … Sally, Greg Kinnear … Brian Jardine, Alfred Molina … Hernan, Andy Karl, Yolonda Ross, Michael Barbieri … Tony Calvelli, Theo Taplitz … Jake Jardine, Arthur J. Nascarella … Stu Gershman, Elia Monte-Brown … Bianca, Stella Schnabel, Melanie Mahanna … Customer, Mauricio Bustamante … Acting Teacher, Johnny Serret …Visitor at the Museum, Ching Valdes-Aran …Merlene, Kevin D. McGee … Audience member, Stan Carp …Sal Bartolini, Yolanda T. Ross, Teeka Duplessis … Eva, Madison Wright … Julia, Kellan McCann …Tony’s teammate and classmate, Bryan Webster …Park Ranger.


Previous form

The writers, Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias, directed and co-wrote the hit Love Is Strange movie reaching a fairly wide audience and this is another New York-set tale that is as charming, insightful, clever, bittersweet and a compelling story well developed.


The basics

Jake (Theo Taplitz ) is a quiet, sensitive middle schooler with dreams of being an artist. He meets the affably brash Tony (Michael Barbieri) at his grandfather’s funeral, and the unlikely pair soon hit it off. The budding friendship is put at risk, however, when a rent dispute between Jake’s parents (Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle) and Tony’s mother (Paulina Garcia) threatens to become contentious. (QFT trailer)



Adulthood divides

There are authors, writers who give a twist and flavour to New York along the lines of, literally, Paul Auster and this urban observer Ira Sachs, whose partnership in writing this screenplay with Mauricio Zacharias, does similar things and produces another dialogue on relationships here honed in on sexual awakenings of youth rebelliousness and in altering states of self construct.  The principles at the heart of the narrative are the boys, 13 year olds who are instant neighbours.  Dealing with LGBT issues in most works, here Sachs allows the sexual to be less apparent and very, very understated via. natural discover alone though is contexurally present.  It avoids and will inform some parents in a similar situation (not in a property dogfight!) giving entry in a different way; there are many to choose from, to the subject of pre-adult teenagers sexuality.  It is so balanced here in the sensitivities needing care and enlightened reasoned, film formatting, of boyhood sexual urges.  Jake (Theo Taplitz ) whose parents move into the flat, apartment in Brooklyn, above the under priced rental shop accommodation.  The two teens are first timers at this acting business and adapt to the strangeness, quirksome, off main boulevard street story.  Streetwise Tony (Michael Barbieri) is a prospective painter, while Jake aspires to act.  Both have opposite personalities. Jake the introvert and Tony the extrovert.  Occasionally you may see some Midnight cowboy type undertones of New York LGBT variety.  The notion has crossed people’s minds before of the homoeroticism in that film.  The naive cowboy is in this construct then Jake.  Wise guys, streetwise folk exist on every street corner and the boulevard of dreams steams up neighbourhood vents and has done for decades.  I saw a bit of – in the prospective actor Tony – his spoof on being the Al Pacino of 2016 but back in the day!  He has a few tries at it for his and your amusement. So NY. So Hip.


Real Estate bites

Harsh as it is, here there is a conflict to test friendships.  The deceased grandfather was close to the Tony’s mother and therefore it is obvious they had an arrangement for her improving her life, probably explaining the minuscule rent.  Pauline Garcia, Leonor, the Chiliean actress seen previously in Gloria, has a hard enough life running a dress business and raising Tony.  Sentiments count for little and Brian under pressure from his sister Audrey who on my view gets a bit of a hard nosed deal being made to be a baddie, and conscious his own endeavours on the work front (Theatre acting and production) are parlous – he is immersed in an allegorical Russian play favoured by NY’s who don’t get GBS or Henric Ibsen – and the real driver work wise is Jennifer Ehle, a psychologist? who not only outperforms the under animated Brian – he doesn’t jack up emotion terribly well here, making me question is it deliberate, Greg Kinnear is playing a (under geared? directed that way?) misguided man whose relative security has in these real estate leveraged times become somewhat liaise-faire and it is a security he is ill equipped to adjust to – he gets easily into overbearing insensitive territory without a back up plan and without regard to those around him.  This playing has a man choker style, meaning the stereotype is white collar man whose traits are mysoginistic if unintentinal through self-awareness – the lack of it –  puritan based, conservative, while the Leonor independant character is a smoker impelled on a mediocre limited scene sullen contrive. She is seen most times in confrontational mode which can’t be great for an actor.  Her part certainly has moments, is gesture driven, but is wrested away by the surrounding cast and playing.  The boys themselves have a tendency to produce heavy tasting wine. Too explicit not implicit.  But they are young first time actors without fulsome direction and sterling work is still delivered.  The only tool in their kidultkit is communication and they use it to devastating effect.  Knowing its presence and absence is learnt unfortunately fast.  Reverting to the baby phase.  Lacking the intellectual argument.


Political stakes.

The Ira Sachs development is cleverly advancing. Mauricio Zacharias as collaborator also has a voice.  The NY set of observations on contemporary – noises off – think Gordon Ramsey kitchen assault on cultural background for the flaming burnt offering implicitly close always.  We are kept away from that but it lurks with very considered homage to the opposite – the glory of the place of a mix of nationalities pushed into mind ghettos by power play with property mainly – you don’t need to look to far to see ‘the ugly face of capitalism’and it seeks election very soon) and NY is in some kind of nasty meltdown and Ira knows it.  Insisting on conveying a near Naom Chomsky archetypal class in a glass. Red or white which do you prefer dining table politik, the worthiness is grafted on.  Chomsky is direct, this isn’t.


Perhaps, and the sexual flourishes in earlier movies which inevitably in each step have occurred, though a tad over developed, may move his art nearer the heartland of Auster, of David Mamet, if social power play is to be found – away from the George Clooney ‘captured in Tv mogul’ vogue, and more Glengarry Glen Ross. It way be a mission worth joining.  I saw all the plays of David Mamet put on at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloan Square, at least twice with Glengarry Glen Ross making it to the NT Cottesloe  The equivalent was a key of Mamets work, the urban kitchen sink drama, sexually energised, Chicago American sociological canvas contempories such as the revived Ken Loach has spectacularly delivered with soon to be released I’Daniel Blake.  I’ve seen it and it is devastatingly good. A Faustian, William Blake Canterbury Tale of 21 post 1066 revolutionary shift!  Brexit as a titbit to a reconstituted Adam Smith based, Francis Hutcheson, new Age of enlightenment.#. The stillness of filmic political narrative in the USA has reached a bit of a lull, post Michael Moore docufilm.  More innovative work is needed. Ira Sachs hasn’t reached there yet; he’s only aged fifty so many films ahead hopefully, with this very accomplished work an indicator but it seems tantalisingly close so perhaps excuses my going of on a tangent.

Conclusion. ### 3 1/2

This is not a stereotypical LGBT movie as others seem to place without having perhaps having seen it but a more considered withdrawn look at boyhood unfolds in a natural sort of way and while having obvious tones of a gay childhood entering adolescence it is not the be all and end all.  In fact many will be pleasantly surprised by its mature tones and the delicate way the adolescence is seen.  It is more figuratively about the boys being piggy in the middle as a parental battle over real estate values become not quite toxic but heated and ugly.  Ira Sachs has displayed again an ingenuity for sensitive relationship matters but it becomes slightly stuck in the adult sterotypes he creates.  The sister of Brian, Audrey, for example is seen as pushy, especially at a family gathering, but is in actual fact meant to be a joint benefactor of the bequeathed Brooklyn two storey building.  Neat in a civilised pre-modernity/21st century rapacious way with ‘neighbourhood’ meaning that.  Excellently atmospheric it gives the appearance of the set of values Ira Sachs is talking about or is in mourning for the diminishing returns real estate greed delivers.  This would be a very good film for parents meeting gay issues for the first time with their own children perhaps or to warn them you can’t always chose yor neighbours.  Leonar and Tony had no choice but out of the deal only one got any friendship. I liked this film quite a bit and will remember it’s story and allow it the further consideration it deserves by further viewing at some point.  It did lack the optical bite it harboured though.  This is a very decent film troubled in my mind not by any lack of integrity but the lack of character dynamics, being controlled and with limitations within the eloquent script.  It’s shades are cast to limiting effect.

I hope it is a good point to allow this team to enter the more complex waters of the themes of corporate and civic worlds indifferent to each others needs and have they, those worlds, personalities at all?  Lille men? Well I suppose as adolescents growing up fast teaches several important but fast life lessons.
John Graham

5 October 2016


On at QFT Belfast from 7 October to 13 October 2016 inc.
# a movement locally is gathering steam to employ some Francis Hutcheson philosophy into our hamstrung times. I’m only myself learning of this recent emergence courtesy of one know locally as the Rev. Mac.

His location is at Dunmurry Belfast which has long association with leaders of liberal and inclusive thinking – seen by many still to be abhorrent and – quite incorrectly – against their heritage and values.  A position favoured by the One per-cent to perpetuate divisive values.  All religions without exception have their destructive elements.