Film Review: Little Men [4/5]

‘Little Men’ is the intimate and deeply moving new film by director Ira Sachs. The ‘Love is Strange’ filmmaker, who has recently been described as “the quintessential auteur of today’s New York”, manages to depict a raw and remarkably naturalistic tale of family, friendship, and the devastating effects of gentrification in modern American cities.

The story follows a blossoming friendship between Jake, an artistic yet awkward 13 year old, and Tony (portrayed respectively by impressive newcomers Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri), after Jake’s family move to Brooklyn following his grandfather’s death. When tensions begin to rise between the two boy’s families, their friendship is put under pressure, gradually forcing them apart.

Sachs humanely portrays the complexity of relationships between parent and child, exploring how parent’s actions can inadvertently drag their children’s lives into turmoil. Space is particularly important in depicting this concept. Sachs manages to accurately capture that overwhelming sense of being trapped with your parents when you’re a teenager. The cramped conditions of the New York apartments, and the limited spatial range of Jake and Tony (only seen at each other’s homes and schools, with some fleeting scenes of blurry Brooklyn streets) represent the inescapable and perhaps inevitable intertwining of family lives.

But at the core of the film is the subject of friendship. Sachs’ use of music (or lack thereof) is particularly symbolic. Most of the scenes play out without even a hint of music, emphasising its raw quality and realism; at times it almost feels like watching a documentary – the viewer is a bystander spying on the character’s lives. However, when Jake and Tony roam the streets of Brooklyn together – one wobbling on roller blades, the other speeding ahead on a scooter – joyful bursts of music carry the scene. It’s as if this time with each other, without parents to control their time or conversation, is precious and almost magical. But their friendship is bittersweet; the magic fades towards the film’s end, representing the unsteadiness and fragility of childhood friendships at the hands of parental disputes, and an environment of urban hostility.

‘Little Men’ is a beautifully simple yet emotionally powerful film about everyday life, firmly establishing Sachs as an immensely talented filmmaker, and certainly one to watch.

[Katie Fannin – @katfnan] 


The film will be running at Glasgow Film Theatre from the 7th to the 13th of October. Tickets here.

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