Starring: Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Alfred Molina
Directed By: Ira Sachs
Plot: Jake (Taplitz) is an awkward 13 year old aspiring artist with no friends. That changes when his grandfather dies and he moves with his mom (Ehle) and dad (Kinnear) into his grandfather’s old place, where he meets Tony (Barbieri). Tony’s mom (Garcia) runs a dress shop below Jake’s new apartment, and they become fast friends. However, their friendship is tested when their parents get involved over a squabble regarding the lease on the shop.
What Works: Director Ira Sachs last gave us Love Is Strange, which didn’t quite work for me as a film. He seems to have figured some things out, because Little Men is much better. Maybe its helped by the fact that it runs under 90 minutes, which makes it really hard to have pacing issues. Or maybe it’s the cast, which do some good work. I’m betting its actually because he discovered two very talented young actors in Taplitz and Barbieri who are the heart and soul of this film. Taplitz is great as the sensitive Jake, lost in the world without a friend, but brought to life by Tony. Jake starts to break out of his shell, and socialize more when Tony’s around. Barbieri as Tony has tons of natural charm to spare. There’s a moment where he talks about Al Pacino (in character, of course), and I had just thought to myself that this kid was like a young Al Pacino, if Pacino was a child actor. Then he drops Pacino’s name, and it blew my mind. It’s like Sachs knew that too, and wanted to let the audience know that he also thinks he discovered the next Pacino. I know that’s a tall order, and its only one film, but it’s just how much potential Barberi has.
What Doesn’t Work: I mean, the adults did fine, but they kinda got out acted by the kids. You can either look at this film as “kids just don’t understand” or “parents are mean”. Depending on how you look at the film, will determine how you feel about the adults. I didn’t hate the parents, I thought the sister was an ass. I kept hoping that the parents would realize how truly awkward their kid was, and how valuable Tony was to him. I thought they might see how Tony was bringing Jake out of his shell, and the value in that was greater than the money in the shop. Instead, they ignored it. So it’s hard for me to take the “kids don’t underestand” route when Jake is so incredibly socially awkward, and the parents seem to just accept that. Had they opted for a different route, Tony could have literally changed Jake’s life forever, instead of giving him some fleeting moment of happiness. In the end (spoilers) Jake is alone, and Tony still has friends. Yes, Jake is doing art, and presumably got into the school of his choice, but he’s still alone. THe other kids don’t interact with him. He’s still the awkward kid, even in his own group. He needed Tony more than his parents needed the rent from that shop.
Final Word: It’s a good film, but it can be frustrating. Then again, don’t good films make you think? You don’t have to like everyones choices, or everyones decisions. I can accept that.
Final Grade: A-