Hot on the heels of the International Film Festival comes a charming little film about the friendship of two Brooklyn boys and the conflict between their respective parents. “Little Men” plays at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Thursday, Sept. 15, Friday, Sept. 16, and Sunday, Sept. 18.
Thirteen-year-old Jake Jardine (Theo Taplitz) meets Tony Calvelli (Michael Barbieri) on the way to his grandfather Max’s funeral. Tony is the son of Leonor Calvelli (Pauline Garcia), who runs a dress shop in the building the Jardines have inherited from the deceased grandparent. Alfred Molina has a cameo as Fernande, Leonor’s friend and advisor in the absence of her husband, who is overseas working. Jake and Tony instantly take to one another. Jake, the shyer of the two, is a burgeoning artist, while Tony hopes to become an actor. Tony aspires to attend Laguardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, and encourages Jake to apply too.
Besties Tony, with his kick scooter and Jake, on skates, hang out, playing video games and spending time at each other’s homes. Tony gives Jake the support for his drawings that he doesn’t get from his middle school teacher. In the meantime, Jake’s parents Brian (Greg Kinnear), an unsuccessful actor, and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), a psychotherapist, plan to triple the rent on the dress shop of Tony’s Chilean-born mother Leonor. As Tony and Jake’s friendship deepens, the parents begin to bicker over the proposed rent increase. Leonor enjoyed a close relationship with Brian’s late father, who kept her rent at below-market level. She thinks that justifies a continued financial break. But Brian’s sister Audrey (Talia Balsa), who co-owns the building where the Jardines live and Leonor’s shop is located, pressures Brian and Kathy for a rent raise.
Both Leonor and the Jardines are devoted to their sons, but they don’t really pay attention to the importance of the boys’ putatively heterosexual friendship. It is marked by a devotion typical among same-sex teenagers as they explore and develop their sexual identities. The conflict over a rent raise turns nasty, as the Jardines gently badger Leonor. In turn, Leonor tells Brian that she spent more time with his father than he did. The cultural component in the conflict shows up when Leonor says Max didn’t attend Jake’s last birthday party because he was ashamed that Kathy was the family’s wage earner. Brooklyn’s ongoing gentrification helps spur the push for a rent raise, with the Jardine’s belief that Leonor’s shop is out of fashion in trendy new Brooklyn.
The subtlety with which director Ira Sachs addresses the issues in “Little Men” — without melodrama or sentimentality — gives resonance to a subject not often treated on film. The director won a 2005 Sundance Grand Jury Prize for his film “40 Shades of Blue” and multiple prizes for “Keep the Lights On.” “Little Men” has been nominated for awards at the Berlin, Deauville, and Edinburgh Film Festivals.
For more information or tickets, visit mvfilmsociety.com.