Little Men Review

Little Men (2016) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

Director: Ira Sachs
Writers: Ira Sachs,  Mauricio Zacharias
Stars: Greg Kinnear,  Jennifer Ehle,  Paulina García, Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri

The movie begins with the Jardine family moving to Brooklyn from their home in Manhatten. Brian (Greg Kinnear), Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) and their son Jake (Theo Taplitz) This is because Brian’s Father has passed away and they’ve decided to move into his home.

Jake, who is a young artist becomes friends with Tony Calvelli (Michael Barbieri) son of Leonor Calvelli (Paulina García) who runs the downstairs dress shop. Jake and Tony become best buddies, but when a dispute with the dress shop’s rent crops up with the Jardine’s considering raising the rent between Jake and Tony’s family the story becomes unraveled and their friendship is put to the test.

Greg Kinnear who I’m used to playing comic characters who are usually sarcastic and cutting plays Brian the father to Jake who is torn between what he and his sister are due in their inheritance and the effect this dispute has on his sons friendship with Tony. Kinnear is great as a frustrated actor who is doing local theatre and hasn’t done any film production in a long time. Brian is in a difficult position as his sister is pushing him to deal with the dress shop problem.

Jennifer Ehle who I recently watched and reviewed in The Fundamentals of Caring (2016) plays Brian’s wife Kathy who has built up a friendship with Leono. Ehle is convincing as the conflicted wife and friend in this situation but I felt Ehle was a little under used as her character came across as someone who didn’t want to get involved and I think this is why “The Sister (played by Talia Balsam) character was introduced as the film doesn’t want to portray all of the Jardine’s as monsters.

Paulina García as Leonor is a great actress and plays the role well as a strong and proud woman. Leonor lets the audience know and understand she was on good relations with Brian’s Father before his passing and explains to the Jardine’s that Brian’s father never had a problem with rent with him. You have to sympathise with Leonor who has ran the dress shop for years and although doesn’t exactly make that much money, it was enough for her to raise her son Tony and aided in them leading a simple life.

The star of the movie (or one of them at least) is Theo Taplitz playing Jake. You get the sense right from the beginning that Jake is in that awkward stage of his teenage years and finds making friends difficult. Luckily he meets Tony who share similar interests and creativity and as the movie roles on Taplitz comes into his own. Particularly in in a heartfelt scene when pleading with his dad to reconsider evicting Leonor and Tony from the shop. It was here Taplitz really nailed the scene and breaking down in front of his family you realise what a talented actor he is for someone who is young and has a great career in front of him.

The other Star (and equally the other Star) is Michael Barbieri who plays Tony the son of Leonor and is the same age as Jake but is more streetwise and sharper in contrast to Jakes more quietly confident character. Tony wants to become an actor when he is older and studies drama. There is an excellent and funny scene in his drama class with his teacher who ad lib for about three minutes, throwing random sentences to each other which is really interesting and funny to watch to see who cracks first. Michael Barbieri is a confident young actor like Theo Taplitz has a great future ahead of him. He reminds me of Ralph Machio when he was starting out in the industry with that Latin swagger about him and razor like wit.

Writers Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias have taken a simple scenario and reached into the impact and consequences of adults making decisions which have an impact on their children and how they handle it. I also felt the writers helped show the audience in these situations that the children make sense of these complications on their outlook on life and remind us a younger persons thought process and how adults sometimes complicate life, so I have to compliment on how they handled it. Little Men won the Grand Special Prize at the Deauville Film Festival (2016)

Little Men runs in at 85 minutes and I feel this is long enough considering the subject matter. The movie as a whole had a blend of humour and drama and full credit to  Ira Sachs the  director / co-writer. But I felt the movies end just fizzles out and feels unresolved as the end scene is hinting that a time has passed and Jake now has longer hair is looking more the artist.

He travels to a museum with some classmates on an art assignment and in the distance he hears Tony talking to some friends. It is clear at this point that as the months have rolled on and with Tony and his family moving out, their friendship quickly dissipates. There is no “hello” or catching up. There is barely resolution which I felt was the only dip in what was a short but tidy movie.

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