Little Men: Ira Sachs Compassionate Coming of Age Tale

little_men_posterIra Sachs, the openly gay indie director, continues to show his penchant for telling intimate and comassionate New York stories with Little Men, a touching coming of age tale of two boys who could not have been more different.






Some critics consider Little Men, which world premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Fest and is now released theatrically, to form the third panel of a trilogy that began with Keep the Lights On (heavy on plot but the weakest) in 2012, and continued with Love Is Strange (the strongest) in 2014.

Most of Sachs good movies center on a couple, as was the case of Love Is Strange, a tale of two elderly married gay couple, who are forced to separate when they can no longer afford pay the escalating rent of their apartment.

Socio-economic conditions also feature prominently as the context in Little Men, co-written by Sachs and frequent collaborator, Mauricio Zacharias.  Gentrification, and its devastating effects on everyday life, is a recurring motif in Sachs’ work, and the new movie examines the impact of gentrification on friendship.

The married couple here is straight, white, and professional: Brian (Greg Kinnear) is an actor, and his wife Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) a psychotherapist. When Brian’s father dies, they inherit his house in Brooklyn and move out there (from Manhattan), with their bright son Jacob (Theo Taplitz), who’s about thirteen, and thus needs to make painful adjustments to new surroundings, schools, and friends.

little_men_5_kinnearBut, alas, the house is not entirely empty. On the ground floor there is a dress shop, run by a Chilean woman, Leonor Calvelli (Paulina García), who was a good friend of the old man’s.  The kind landlord (Brian’s father) didn’t raise her rent for eight years, and now Brian, influenced by market forces and some greed, wants to raise it—in fact, triple it.  (It’s not an accident that Brian appears as Trigorin in a stage production of Checkohv’s best known play, “The Seagull”)

García, who made strong impression in the 2013 international hit, Gloria (2013), plays Leonor as a sensitive but tough and resilient woman. How can she not be, struggling to make ends meet and raise a precautious boy, Tony (Michael Barbieri), who is about the same age and whose own father is absent

little_men_6Arguing with Brian, she shows her matter of fact side when she states plainly, “I was more his family than you ever were.” Brian’s son also is aware of his dad’s insecurities. “He’s not that successful or anything,” Jacob says to Gloria’s son.

Disregarding their familial conflicts, the two boys join forces, growing closer to each other, spending time on the streets–Jacob on roller blades, Tony with a scooter.  Despite differences in social class and status, they show the similarities that they share—they are both soulful and aggressive, child-like but also men-like when needed.

Tony plans to become an actor, and we observe him in drama class, practicing steadily and firmly with his coach—until he gets it right. Tony, who soon starts to outgrow Jacob and the others, is the most interesting character in this intimate saga, and as played by the gifted child actor Barbieri, he becomes even more dominant in the latter parts of the tale.  Here is a stubborn son of an immigrant who embraces the American Dream and is going to make it–the hard way but also his way.

little_men_3A humanist, Sachs wears his bleeding liberal and gay ideology on his sleeves in all of his pictures.  Too bad that he has not developed a distinctive visual style—his movies are shot blandly like routine TV episodes.  But he has interesting stories to tell–about the underclass and underprivileged members of society–and for that we should be grateful.