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