Little Men review: Another gem from Love Is Strange filmmaker Ira Sachs, with an impeccable cast and a supreme new talent in young Michael Barbieri.
Little Men review by Paul Heath at the Berlin Film Festival, 2016. Little Men is the latest independent production from Ira Sachs, the talented film-maker behind Love Is Strange and Keep The Lights On. The film makes its debut at the Berlin Film Festival following its world premiere at this year’s Sundance.
The drama is set during one summer in Brooklyn, New York where Jake (Theo Taplitz), along with Kathy and Brian, his mother and father, Jennifer Ehle (in her second role at Berlinale ’16 following Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion) and Greg Kinnear, has moved into his late grandfather’s house. Beneath the house lies a shop, which is run by Italian seamstress Leonor. Her son, Tony (Michael Barbieri), instantly forms a friendship with young Jake and the two embark on a summer-long companionship playing computer games, chasing girls, kicking footballs, and everything else 13-year-olds do with a little holiday time on their hands. However, there’s an issue between their parents, as the shop was owned by Jake’s late-grandfather, and now his parents’, along with Brian’s sister, Audrey (Talia Balsam). After discovering that the shop’s rent hasn’t been raised for over eight years, and with applied pressure from Audrey for her share of the rent, Brian is forced to negotiate an increase on the shared property. With Leonor not able to afford a potential trebling of the rent due to a lull in business, a sudden dispute arises, forcing the two boys to unite to form a protest, not only attempting to save Leonor and Tony from eviction, but their friendship altogether.
Little Men is a superb little low-budget affair from respected director Sachs, who also co-writes the screenplay with Mauricio Zacharias (Keep The Lights On, Love Is Strange). The film is one about friendship, companionship, family loyalties, and those good old long days of summer which always seemed endless, but were always over far too quickly.
Sachs has assembled an excellent cast, not only in the seasoned talent of Kinnear and Ehle, but also in the two younger actors at the heart of the feature. Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri are truly excellent as Jake and Tony respectively; two promising young actors who we hope we’ll a lot more from in the future. A particular stand-out is the young Barbieri, who makes his screen debut; a commanding individual who grabs your attention for every moment that he is on the screen. His dominant turn as the actor-in-waiting, who dreams of attending the prestigious La Guardia High School across the river to develop his thespian ambitions, bounces off of his peers with confident aplomb – he almost reminds us of a young Robert De Niro with his raw talent, presence and extreme promise.
Another screen great, and alumni of Sachs’s last movie, Alfred Molina, also turns up in a very brief, blink-and-you’ll-miss him role, but he’s a pleasing addition.
Sachs crafts a short, though entertaining study that raises many moral conflicts within family circumstances, mixed with tons of heart and emotion, most of which are created by the adults, which ultimately impact both of the two boys. Little Men is a likable indie, a wondrous journey into the innocence adolescence and the huge responsibility that it is to be both an adult and parent.
Little Men review by Paul Heath at the Berlin Film festival, 2016.