Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: Ira Sachs
Written by: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Michael Barbieri, Theo Taplitz, Alfred Molina
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 7/28/16
Opens: August 5, 2016
While many critics will find Ira Sachs’ “Little Men” to run like a sequel to the director’s “Love is Strange,” I see a connection to Arthur Miller’s “The Death of a Salesman.” Willy Loman, the salesman of Miller’s play, received a guarantee from the now departed owner of his business that he could keep his job for life. However, both his father and the employer died, the neighborhood is changing, and the new boss throws Willy out for poor performance. In “Little Men,” Leonor Calvelli (Paulina García), a Chilean-American dressmaker in Brooklyn, had been able to pay much less rent than the store could have brought in thanks to Max, the store’s landlord. But when Max dies, his son Brian Jardine (Greg Kinnear), does not have the same attachment to Leonor and is under pressure from his sister Audrey (Talia Balsam) to raise the rent to market value. Brian does not want to play hatchet man, but since he is a failed actor bringing in meager money and being supported by his psychotherapist wife Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), he tries to break the news to Leonor in a nuanced talk but her response, which may have something to do with her Chilean pride, is standoff-ish and hostile.
“Little Men” could be looked on as a drama of gentrification were it not focused more on two thirteen-year-old boys of different personalities who bond over video games; the outgoing Tony Calvelli (Michael Barbieri), who is the dressmaker’s son, and Jake Jardine (Theo Taplitz), in the role of the landlord’s boy. Director Sachs gets momentum out of scenes in middle school, where the two boys, one hoping to be an artist and the other an actor, deal with their teachers and attend a dance for the kids. In one humorous scene, would-be actor Tony engages in an exercise with his energetic drama teacher, both shouting the same outcries at each other, which shows us that this kid may well land on Broadway in a dozen years. Adolescent friendship is the theme, more specifically what happens when two little men approaching a maturity that gives them an interest in their parents’ business, will be led out of the relative innocence of childhood to gain insight into what lies ahead.
At fifty-three years of age, Greg Kinnear has lost none of the striking good looks and mellifluous voice, which doesn’t hurt toward the making of a gem of a little movie, probably sustained on a small budget, one that gives us a mirror on the joys of young friendship, with the more introverted Jake surprised that he has the support of a new pal. Filming took place in Brooklyn in a neighborhood that looks like Bay Ridge, with neat shots of the two youths zooming around on roller skates and scooter, experimenting with the silent treatment as a way of manipulating their parents before they are made aware of their money problems. Alfred Molina shows up in a small role as Leonor’s lawyer: even his performance is spot on in a movie that projects an authenticity about kids growing up and parents facing adult problems.
Rated PG. 85 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – A-