Little Men

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I have a real love/hate relationship with the films of Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On, Married Life, Love is Strange). I enjoy the subtle nature of them, the authentic performances, but at the end of the day…there’s just not enough there. This is much the same.

The premise for this one is terrific. Two teenagers (Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri) in Brooklyn become  fast friends. The problem is, one of the parents (Greg Kinnear) needs to raise the rent on the mother of the other child. She can’t afford it, as her boutique isn’t doing so well. Since the building was recently inherited after a death, she claims the previous owner promised her she could stay. That becomes the first flaw with this movie. If she’s lying, we don’t have sympathy for her. If she’s telling the truth, well…we all know that without a contract, that means very little. We can’t fault Kinnear for wanting to get more money out of her, as she’s renting the space for well below market value. It doesn’t help that Kinnear has a sister (Talia Balsam) that also wants her cut of the property.

One aspect of the movie that’s interesting is…none of these characters is bad. These aren’t one-dimensional movie types. Sometimes they do or say nice things, other times they’re mean. Just like regular people that aren’t on movie screens.

The boys are on the artistic side, and their friendship seems real. Jake is an artist who draws and paints. Tony wants to be an actor. We suspect Jake (who reminds me of Chris Makepeace from the ‘70s and ‘80s films Meatballs, My Bodyguard). It’s a subtext Sachs has tackled before.

Kinnear’s character is an actor, but he hasn’t been able to pull off making a living at it. His wife (Jennifer Ehle) is a therapist that brings home the bacon.

Alfred Molina, one of the best actors working today, has a wasted role in a few scenes as a family friend (and I think an attorney, but I wasn’t positive).

Paulina Garcia, an interesting actress (The 33, Gloria), is great in her scenes, but the problem is how they’re done. She’s written in such a way, my girlfriend and I never had sympathy for her plight. She’s the one that’s going to lose her business, and we hardly had any sympathy for her. Especially after one scene in which she tells Kinnear just what his dad thought of him.

There’s some interesting camera work from Oscar Duran, but at the end of the day, there’s just not enough here to recommend the picture. It’s underwritten, and aside from one dramatic scene that really packs a punch, you’ll wish there was so much more (a feeling I had with Indignation last month).

The ending is especially frustrating, as it offers no real resolution. Sometimes that can work. This time, it didn’t.

2 stars out of 5.