A poignant tale of ev­ery­day drama in Lit­tle Men

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE -

When a gen­er­ous pa­tri­arch dies, the lives of two fam­i­lies are al­tered in Ira Sachs’ beau­ti­fully poignant slice of life drama Lit­tleMen.

In the film, Brian Jar­dine (Greg Kin­n­ear), a strug­gling ac­tor, his wife, Kathy (Jen­nifer Ehle), apsy­chother­a­pi­s­tandthe bread­win­ner of the fam­ily, and their 13-year-old son Jake (Theo Taplitz) up­root theirMan­hat­tan lives and move into Brian’s late fa­ther’shomein Brook­lyn.

On the ground floor of the res­i­dence is a tiny store that sells hand­made dresses. The owner, a Chilean woman, Leonor Calvelli (Paulina Gar­cia) also has a young son, Tony (Michael Bar­bieri), who Jake quickly be­friends.

Jake is an old soul with an artist’s eye and sen­si­tiv­ity. Tony is a charis­matic neigh­bor­hood kid with a thick Brook­lyn ac­cent and act­ing am­bi­tions. They’re both an­gling to get into the same art school too. Their friend­ship is pure, im­me­di­ate and quite charm­ing — th­ese two kids are some true tal­ents.

But there’s an un­spo­ken ten­sion lin­ger­ing­be­lowthesur­face in Leonor’s in­ter­ac­tions with the Jar­dines. She knows what’s com­ing even if the au­di­ence can’t quite see it yet. They live side-by-side in rel­a­tive peace for a time, and then the con­ver­sa­tion hap­pens: Brian tell­sLeonor that she needs to sign anew lease and pay more rent.

Leonor had been shielded from the chang­ing tides of the neigh­bor­hood un­der the char­ity and pro­tec­tion of Brian’s fa­ther. They were friends, and he liked the “glam­our” of hav­ing the shop there, she ex­plains. But Brian is not his fa­ther and he and his sis­ter are think­ing prac­ti­cally about the space. What do they owe this woman, after all? And hasn’t she got­ten by for longer than she would have un­der any other cir­cum­stance?

But even at a dis­count, Leonor can’t af­ford the newrent.

Leonor lashes out in her re­served, but pierc­ing way, telling Brian that she was more his fa­ther’s fam­ily than he was. She was there the day he died. She was there ev­ery day. Brian re­sponds ap­pro­pri­ately— that that’s a ridicu­lous thing to say. Both are right, and both are wrong, but the die has been cast and there is no turn­ing back from this.

Alone, it’s a good story, but it’s the very dif­fer­ent-on-pa­per lit­tle men at the cen­ter, Jake and Tony, who give it that ex­tra weight of tragedy, as they watch their par­ents un­ravel with greed and pride and vow to stop speak­ing to them un­til they work it out.

It’s not about gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, Kathy tries to tel­lLeonor. They aren’t the ruth­less rich, col­o­niz­ing a new neigh­bor­hood. Brian doesn’t make any money and hasn’t in a while and they need the rent money from the store, she says.

Lit­tleMen un­folds like a play in a taut 85 min­utes. Its small­ness makes it grand and mov­ing. Th­ese are the things, th­ese lit­tle mo­ments, de­ci­sions and con­se­quences­that­mosthu­man lives are made of, after all.

Lit­tle Men, a Mag­no­lia Pic­tures re­lease, is rated PG by the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica for “the­matic el­e­ments, smok­ing and some lan­guage”.


Michael Bar­bieri (fore­ground) and Theo Taplitz star in the main roles of Lit­tleMen.

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