True to its title, this is shortish film about a small scale conflict between two families and the children who get caught up in them. I’ve never seen anything by its director Ira Sachs before. His filmography isn’t very long but he seems to have been around for a while. There are at least a couple of recognizable performers in this low budget production but I’d bet most people would have a lot of trouble placing them.
When his grandfather dies, 13-year old Jake and his family move into the Brooklyn apartment they have inherited. The apartment sits above a shop lot which Jake’s parents now own. The space is currently being rented by a dress maker Leonor and Jake quickly becomes friends with her son Tony who is of a similar age. Though they have very different personalities, Jake being more reticent and effeminate and Tony being more gregarious and macho, they become best friends and encourage each other in their ambitions. Jake wants to be an artist and Tony wants to be an actor. However a conflict brews between their parents as Jake’s parents wants to increase the rental rate which has been below market price for years. Leonor insists that this was because she was good friends with the deceased grandfather and he considered her a fixture of the neighborhood. Upset by the feud, the two boys remain steadfast in their friendship and try to protest their parents’ actions.
I found this film to have a remarkably European feeling in that it is about a scenario with no neat solutions and a very human-scale conflict. I also liked how it presents New York as just another local neighborhood in which children live and grow up. You don’t ordinarily think of the huge city in this way and I enjoyed seeing it in this novel light. Unfortunately I don’t much like the rest of the film. The relationship between Jake and Tony is central to the story and though the two young actors are excellent, I thought that the script was trying too hard. Even though both of the boys should be considered to have more sensitive personalities than the norm, their bonding over their respective familial relationships don’t feel convincing to me. I just have a hard time buying that boys would bond over a conversation like that, however artistic their personalities.
Overall Little Men is a solid effort with some decent scenes but I didn’t find it particularly impressive. In fact, it’s even a little sad to see performers with such illustrious careers as Jennifer Ehle and Greg Kinnear appear in a project this small and unambitious.