Buffa: 'Little Men' is a simplistic yet unconventional triumph

You may think you know where "Little Men" is going, but you are wrong. 

Writer/director Ira Sachs doesn't want anything to do with conventional storytelling. His films never go in the direction an audience is thinking. Films like "Keep the Light On," "Love Is Strange," "Married Life," and "Forty Shades of Blue" all tackle uncomfortable, yet thought provoking, areas of life.

It may be a homosexual relationship between two young men or two older men, or the trials and tribulations of marriage, but Sachs never handles it gently or cinematically. He makes it different. He loves the comfortable numbness that gives indie films their scent. "Little Men" is no different. 

At first glance, it looks like just another coming of age flick. As a friendship blossoms between a pair of different yet endearing boys, played by newcomers Michael Barbeiri and Theo Taplitz, they must deal with the differences between their respective families.

Jake Jardine (Taplitz) is the son of a struggling actor (Greg Kinnear) and a hard working mother (Jennifer Ehle) who have inherited a shop from Kinnear's father. A shop that is ran by Paulina Garcia's Leonor Calvelli, the mother of Tony (Barbeiri). 

When a new lease must be signed, old wounds are torn apart and a line is drawn between the families, which tests the bonds between Jake and Tony as well as Kinnear's Brian Jardine and Leonor, who constantly reminds him that his father loved what she did with the shop. The uncomfortable vibes of the script doesn't allow for conventional familiarity to veer into the film. 

If you think Brian and Leonor will simply reconcile and do the right thing for a happy ending, you are wrong. If you think the two young friends won't be affected by their elders actions, you are wrong.

While the movie never gets heavy, Little Men goes into bold areas and is a quietly moving film. It's about honest people trying to make a living and set the right example for their kids. 

Sachs' films never really end or have a big finale. His stories end in a manner that reflects real life. Life just goes on in the end. The couple doesn't have a huge embrace and kiss in the middle of Times Square. Sachs prefers to have a father and son chat serve as the climax and a quiet departure close his films.

They leave you wanting more but not feeling like you were cheated. You'll wonder where the Jardines go from the end credits and how Tony handles what transpires with Leonor. Their world keeps ticking in the end. 

While Kinnear and Garcia are superb, the real standouts are the young kids. Michael Barbeiri deserves your attention moving forward. Carrying the ferocity of Pacino and the ruthlessness of Marlon Brando, the kid handles scenes with older trained actors like a pro. He never seems overmatched and it's his first film. His Brooklyn accent and physical abilities highlight an innocence that he soaks Tony in as the film ages. A film about young boys growing into little men faster than usual. 

See "Little Men" if you want a sophisticated family drama. If you want something different at the movies, take a chance on Ira Sachs' latest. 


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