Lit­tle Men

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Lit­tle Men Love is Strange)

If there’s an un­der­ly­ing whis­per to Ira Sachs’ (no re­la­tion to the Louisa May Al­cott novel of the same name), it’s that the world, like a shark, must keep mov­ing for­ward — and noth­ing stays the same, whether it be com­merce, or fam­ily, or friend­ship, or life it­self.

That last and most re­li­able ev­i­dence of im­per­ma­nence as­serts it­self first in this small, del­i­cate movie when thir­teen-year-old Jake Jar­dine (Theo Taplitz) learns through a mis­di­rected phone call that his grand­fa­ther has died, set­ting the story in mo­tion. Jake’s dad Brian (Greg Kin­n­ear) is a poor player who struts and frets dur­ing his hour upon the stage in for­get­table Off-Off-Broad­way pro­duc­tions that bring in neg­li­gi­ble in­come, so when he in­her­its his fa­ther’s place in Brook­lyn, Brian moves his fam­ily from Man­hat­tan to the new digs.

The build­ing comes with a store­front at street level and an apart­ment above it. The store is oc­cu­pied by a feisty Chilean seam­stress, Leonor (Paulina Gar­cía), who runs a dress shop. We don’t know how long she’s been there, but her rent seems stuck some­where in the Lind­say may­oral ad­min­is­tra­tion. “Your fa­ther loved me,” Leonor point­edly tells Brian, and whether or not she means to im­ply any­thing phys­i­cal, it’s clear that the old man never raised her rent. With Brian strapped for money, and his co-in­her­i­tor sis­ter Au­drey (Talia Bal­sam) ag­i­tat­ing for her share, that is an­other thing that is about to change in a Brook­lyn that is gen­tri­fy­ing by the minute.

Leonor is a de facto sin­gle mother (her hus­band is al­ways away), and her son Tony (Michael Bar­bieri) and Jake hit it off im­me­di­ately, be­com­ing fast pals. Jake’s a bud­ding artist, Tony an as­pir­ing ac­tor (one of the film’s best scenes is an act­ing ex­er­cise in his theater class), and they make a pact to ap­ply to­gether to the LaGuardia High School of Mu­sic and Art. There are wispy but un­de­vel­oped hints of ho­mo­erotic at­trac­tion.

As the boys’ friend­ship deep­ens, the adults’ re­la­tion­ship grows frostier. Jake’s mother Kathy (Jen­nifer Ehle), a ther­a­pist and con­flict res­o­lu­tion coun­selor, tries her hand, but makes no head­way. Leonor’s good friend Her­nan (Al­fred Molina, who was in Sachs’ drops in to of­fer ad­vice, but the im­per­a­tives of the mar­ket­place and in­evitable change steer this ve­hi­cle down a one-way street.

The feud be­comes a tri­an­gle, with the sad-eyed Brian pit­ted against the an­tag­o­nis­tic Leonor, and the kids united in giv­ing their par­ents the silent treat­ment. It’s a de­fi­ant ex­er­cise rooted in the co­coon of their dis­ap­pear­ing child­hood.

Sachs spins his story slowly, with some nicely ob­served scenes and a lot of pad­ding. At the end, he jumps ahead a year or so to re­in­force his theme of the im­per­ma­nence of things, then closes the film like some­one walk­ing out of a room and turn­ing off the lights in the mid­dle of a con­ver­sa­tion. — Jonathan Richards

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