Little Men (2016)

movie:
Ira Sachs
Version:
movie

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On September 16, 2016
Last modified:September 16, 2016

Summary:

Jake & Tony's friendship is tested by a dispute over the appropriate rent for Tony's mother's dress shop in the building owned by Jake's parents.

Rated PG. Running time: 1 hours 25 min.

Our content ratings: Violence 1; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

Saul spoke with his son Jonathan and with all his servants about killing David. But Saul’s son Jonathan took great delight in David. Jonathan told David, “My father Saul is trying to kill you; therefore be on guard tomorrow morning; stay in a secret place and hide yourself. I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you; if I learn anything I will tell you.” Jonathan spoke well of David to his father Saul, saying to him, “The king should not sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you…

1 Samuel 19:1-4

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Two boys try to keep their friendship alive despite a dispute among their parents. (c) Magnolia Pictures

The most famous friendship in the Scriptures is that between David and Jonathan, a friendship so strong that it survived even the jealousy and hatred of the latter’s father, King Saul. As director Ira Sachs’s Brooklyn-set film unreels we wonder if this will be the case for Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri)? The threat to their friendship is due to a dispute between Jake’s parents Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) Jardine and Tony’s Chilean-born mother Leonor Calvelli.(Paulina Garcia).

The 13 year-old boys first meet when the Jardines get out of their van and start unloading flowers and food for the gathering following the funeral of Jake’s grandfather Max. Below Max’s apartment is Leonor’s small dress shop. For many years Max had rented the space to her at below market price because they had become friends. She and her son Tony are watching as the Jardines unload their van, and when Jake drops some papers, Tony comes to his aid. Seeing some of Jake’s drawings among the dropped items, Tony expresses his admiration. So, later when the Jardine’s move into the apartment to save on housing expenses, the boys immediately bond, playing video games together, eating and sleeping over at one another’s, and traveling around the neighborhood, Tony on a scooter and Jake on skates.

Kathy’s income as a therapist is the family’s main support because Brian’s acting role in a non-profit’s production of The Sea Gull is very low paying. Greg’s sister Audrey (Talia Balsam) pushes Brian to offer Leonor a new lease that will triple her rent. Gentrification has greatly changed the neighborhood, increasing the value of its real estate. Audrey points out that her brother is benefitting from their inheritance by moving into the apartment, so she expects to receive her due from the inheritance by charging Leonor market value rent.

The three parents are often together for meals, but Leonor changes the subject when Brian raises the subject of rent. She stalls meeting with him as long as she can, but he finally visits her in her shop and explains the situation as he holds out a new lease agreement. Leonor describes her close friendship with Max and his reasons for not raising the rent as the neighborhood changed due to gentrification. When this does not sway Brian, she lashes out with the claim that his father had said some harsh things about him, that with his infrequent visits she was the real caregiver.

Not understanding the issues, Jake and Tony agree that they will no longer speak to their parents. This results in some awkward moments, especially between Jake and Brian. The boys continue to try to keep their friendship despite the increasing animosity among the adults—Leonor, finally served with the eviction notice that the reluctant Brian had tried to put off, hires a lawyer to see if there is a way she can keep her shop. Then, discovering the details of the dispute, the boys even try to come up with a compromise solution.

In a Disney-like film the boys pleading with the adults while offering their plan would have climaxed the film, ending perhaps with some hugs or a quiet handshake, but Ira Sachs is not out to make us feel good. He is intent on exploring the emotions and relationships of two adolescents caught in the crossfire of a serious problem felt by the adults. Both sides are short of money and have legitimate concerns they are pursuing. The closest to a villain is Jake’s Aunt Audrey, and with a little bit of empathy we can see that she too makes a fair claim.

As I thought about Jake and Tony’s buffeted friendship, the words of the theme song of the radio comedy My Fried Irma came to mind. Taken from the chorus of a Cole Porter musical, it declares, “Friendship, friendship, just the perfect blendship/When other friendships have been forgot, ours will still be hot.” A nice sentiment, and it certainly applies to the friendship that bound together Jonathon and David so strongly that not even King Saul’s fury could break. But can it apply to two young Brooklynites as well?

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the Oct. issue of Visual Parables.

Jake & Tony's friendship is tested by a dispute over the appropriate rent for Tony's mother's dress shop in the building owned by Jake's parents.

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