Sep 21

“Little Men”: Friendship Compromised By Parents

The phrase “quietly devastating” could have been invented to describe this movie. It is patient, it is keenly observed, and it is acted impeccably, especially by teens Taplitz and Barbieri. Rich Juzwiak, Gawker, regarding Little Men

A brief description by IMDB of Little Men: “A new pair of best friends have their bond tested by their parents’ battle over a dress shop lease.” Tagline: Be on each other’s side.

Rotten Tomatoes provides a longer intro to this “slice of life” film:

When 13-year-old Jake’s (Theo Taplitz) grandfather dies, his family moves from Manhattan back into his father’s old Brooklyn home. There, Jake befriends the charismatic Tony (Michael Barbieri), whose single mother Leonor (Paulina Garcia), a dressmaker from Chile, runs the shop downstairs. Soon, Jake’s parents Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) — one, a struggling actor, the other, a psychotherapist — ask Leonor to sign a new, steeper lease on her store. For Leonor, the proposed new rent is untenable, and a feud ignites between the adults. At first, Jake and Tony don’t seem to notice; the two boys, so different on the surface, begin to develop a formative kinship as they discover the pleasures of being young in Brooklyn. Jake aspires to be an artist, while Tony wants to be an actor, and they have dreams of going to the same prestigious arts high school together. But the children can’t avoid the problems of their parents forever, and soon enough, the adult conflict intrudes upon the borders of their friendship.

THE TRAILER FOR LITTLE MEN

JAKE AND TONY

Bob Mondello, NPR: “Caught in the middle of a financial struggle, they [the boys] exercise the only power they have, and stop communicating with their parents. Not one word passes among them for several days, which exacts an emotional penalty without quite fixing any of the problems. Awkward repercussions ensue.”

Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: ” Are they gay? We can’t say, really. What tingles between them, for most of the film, is the mysterious attraction of boyish friendship and the gently dangerous chance that it might flower into something more.”

Here’s what Ira Sachs, the director of Little Men, told Juzwiak at Gawker: “I think these kids—particularly Jake—were on the pre side” (of sexual identity awareness).

CLASS ISSUES

David Ehrlich, IndieWire: “…(A)s their friendship deepens and they’re forced to defend themselves against their parents’ legal woes, the film assumes a low-key ‘When Harry Met Sally’ vibe: Can people of different classes really be friends? Or does money always get in the way?”

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com, lauding Garcia’s performance (Leonor) as “one of the best of the year,” states “Leonor goes against every unexamined assumption about ‘class’ that Brian probably didn’t even know he had. He doesn’t say this, but it is clear he expected her to be grateful that she got a break in rent for as long as she did. Leonor is not grateful, not deferential to his supposed higher status.”

Apr 20

“Little Miss Sunshine”: The Pleasure of Their Dysfunction

In my opinion, perhaps the most loveable dysfunctional family ever on film is that of Little Miss Sunshine (2006).

Sheryl Hoover (Toni Collette), a harried chain-smoking mom, invites her suicidal intellectual gay brother Frank (Steve Carell) to stay with her and her family. Her husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a wannabe self-help guru—who’s unsuccessful himself. Son Dwayne (Paul Dano) currently isn’t speaking. Grandpop Edwin (Alan Arkin) is addicted to heroin and was ousted from his elder care facility.

And that leaves seven-year-old chubby and bubbly Olive (Abigail Breslin), who just wants to win a beauty pageant—and isn’t really cut out for such things.

One could argue that all of the family members in Little Miss Sunshine should be in therapy—separately, together, whatever—but of course they aren’t. Instead, they’re all taking a road trip—in support of Olive’s dream.

Below, the trailer:

Selected Reviews

James Berardinelli, ReelViews: “It takes a deft hand to fashion a feel-good movie with plenty of laughs and an upbeat ending out of a story that includes drug addiction, a suicide attempt, a death, Nietzsche, and Proust.”

Dana Stevens, Slate: “If anything, the recent film it most recalls is You Can Count on Me (2000), another small treasure about a fractured family that managed to be moving without troweling on the sap. Little Miss Sunshine has some elements of farce, including extended sequences of physical comedy and an unlikely, exuberant finale. But it takes its characters very seriously indeed, and affords them a measure of dignity even at their most ridiculous.”

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: “…a dysfunctional-family comedy with a crucial difference — the function progresses, hilariously, from dys to full and loving.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: “This bittersweet comedy of dysfunction takes place at the terminus of the American dream, where families are one bad break away from bankruptcy.”

David Rooney, Variety: “A quietly antic dysfunctional family road trip comedy that shoots down the all-American culture of the winner and offers sweet redemption for losers — or at least the ordinary folks often branded as such.”