With Little Men Ira Sachs continues to represent his cynical view of the working generation. In 2014’s Love is Strange he placed his sympathies firmly with an elderly gay couple. This time he swings to the other extreme by sympathising with two 13 year-old boys, and the middle generation, in this case their parents, are shown to be disappointing and lacking in self-awareness.
This approach produces a well-observed depiction of the gulf between children and adults; as a key exchange demonstrates, Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri) are yet to replace frank, unfiltered honesty with the societal conventions that flow automatically from their parents’ mouths.
Setting, scenario and style recalls Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, yet Sachs’ sensibility and tone are far less acerbic. While the youngsters still become disillusioned about their parents’ fallibility, Sachs also celebrates experiences – including the painfully awkward – that are quintessential to childhood. A series of beautiful sunkissed scenes of the boys skating around Brooklyn – not unlike Love is Strange’s closing shots – encapsulate this nostalgia.
The central conflict is so provoking of debate that the unassuming, narrow narrative is in retrospect rich and ethically complex. Little Men features little incident and the naturalistic pace won’t suit all appetites, yet it allows performances to shine. Both Taplitz and Barbieri (who sounds just like a young De Niro) give unaffected performances ideally suited to Sachs’ vision of childhood. Some characters, however, are merely underwritten placeholders with no characteristics beyond those relevant to the business deal.
Little Men is a modest and believable slice of Brooklyn life which sits in perfect thematic accord with Sachs’ previous work. It may not awe or surprise but it’s a lovely bittersweet experience and provides a lot of talking points.
CAST: Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri, Jennifer Ehle, Greg Kinnear, Alfred Molina, Talia Balsam
DIRECTOR: Ira Sachs
WRITERS: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
SYNOPSIS: A new pair of best friends have their bond tested by their parents’ battle over the lease of a business premises.