Thursday, August 18, 2016

Big ideas done with subtlety and care in Ira Sach's new urban family film, LITTLE MEN

How do the decisions we make about right and wrong, friends and family, and whom to help when the chips are down -- as well as those made for us by our parents -- affect our lives to come? A sterling example of all the above can be found in LITTLE MEN, the new film from Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On, Love Is Strange) that offers up the conundrum of gentrification and modern-day real estate in Brooklyn, New York, and how this impacts the lives of two families.

As has always been his wont, Mr. Sachs places character, followed by situation, above all else, although I must admit that his plots have become increasingly interesting and rich (compare The Delta, from 1996, with his current film). The filmmaker, shown at right, seems to bite off a bit more "story" with each new work, chew it up properly and then let us digest the results -- which, in this case, produces plenty of food for thought.

The tale here is of a middle-class Manhattan family -- actor dad (Greg Kinnear, above, left), therapist mom (Jennifer Ehle, above, right) and middle-school-attending son (Theo Taplitz, below) -- that, due to the sudden death of its estranged patriarch, moves to Brooklyn to take over the brownstone left to dad and his sister (Talia Balsam).

On the ground floor of that brownstone is a dress shop run by a South American woman (Paulina García, below) whose relationship with the deceased father is never quite spelled out. But she owns and has been running the shop for more than a decade (with nary a rent increase) and is in no mood to move out or have anything changed monetarily. Her teenage son (Michael Barbieri, two photos below) quickly becomes fast friends with the family's son, and so the set-up for real estate (excuse the expression) "trumping" relationships becomes front and center.

How this plays out is both expected and not so. No one is an out-and-out villain, and surprisingly enough the dress shop owner proves the most intransigent of anyone. But thanks to a keen grasp on character and motivation (and the truly troubling attempt by Kinnear's dad to somehow "do the right thing"), we viewers are brought up-close-and-personal to the idea of family vs friendship, money vs morality and not-so-simple betrayal and the results thereof.

Performances could hardly be better, particularly those of the two boys, both of whom shine in their own special ways. Kinnear, one of the most under-rated actors working today, is as fine as always. Notice his ability to let us understand that dad is not so hot an actor (his Trigorin -- they're doing The Seagull -- looks good but lacks a lot) yet his performance as the beleaguered dad is quite wonderful.

By the finale of Little Men, it is clear that everyone has moved on. But the family's son must quietly accept and live with his betrayal of his friend, and we get a dark, rich sense of the past having impacted the future in ways that will likely not be undone. And Mr Sachs has created another quiet, small movie that resonates strongly and beautifully.

From Magnolia Pictures and running a mere 85 minutes, the movie, after opent in major cities over the past few weeks, hits South Florida tomorrow, Friday,. August 19, at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, and then the following Friday, August 26, at the Bill Cosford Cinema, Miami. On September 9, it opens at the Movies of Delray and the Movies of Lake Worth, and at the Lake Worth Playhouse. You can view all currently scheduled nationwide playdates, cities and theaters by clicking here.

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