Ira Sachs directed Love Is Strange, a thematically rich drama about a music teacher and a painter who have to give up their New York City apartment and are forced to adapt to more limited accommodations. It's not what this gay couple had in mind for their elder years.
Little Men continues Sachs' interest in New York life for men. This time he focuses on boyhood. Some themes from the earlier film are still apparent: changes in a neighborhood brought on by gentrification, the small ethical crises which throw people into circumstances beyond their control, the challenges to relationships during crises, and the art of letting go. Although the two teens in this film try to make the most of their friendship, the feud between the three adults in their lives has a major impact on their relationship.
Jake (Theo Taplitz), a talented art student, joins his parents Brian (Greg Kinnear), a small-time actor in nonprofit theatre, and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), a psychotherapist, at the funeral for his grandfather Max. There he meets Tony (Michael Barbieri) whose Chilean immigrant mother Leonor (Paulina Garcia) operates a dress shop in the rental space downstairs from Max's apartment.
After Jake and his parents move into the vacant apartment, the boys become best friends. They share a common interest in video games. They zip around Brooklyn with Jake on rollerblades and Tony on a scooter. But just as they are really enjoying hanging out together, a feud breaks out between Leonor, Brian, and Kathy.
With gentrification in full swing in the neighborhood, small and traditional businesses are being pushed out for new tenants who can pay higher rent. Brian and Kathy are in need of money and also have to share the inheritance from Max with Brian's sister Audrey (Talia Balsam). She insists they give Leonor a new lease that triples her rent. Leonor tries to convince them that she was closer to Max than they were and he would want her to keep the store. Meanwhile, the two boys decide to quit talking to their parents.
Paulina Garcia, who was so outstanding in Gloria, vividly conveys the immigrant entrepreneur's fear and pain. Greg Kinear delivers the subtle textures of his character, which are especially apparent in his parenting of Jake whose artistic sensitivities require patience and respect. Michael Barbeiri as the gregarious Tony puts in such a stellar performance that he will be a contender for the end-of-the-year commendations by film critics in the category Best Breakthrough Performance. Taplitz as Jake and Jennifer Ehle as his mother impress as well.
The top-drawer screenplay for Little Men by Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias turns the film into a portrait of how two boys learn to handle their emotions and see the emotional effects of changes on those around them. The writers mine the many meanings in Jake and Tony's friendship while at the same time doing justice to the ethical ramifications of the feud that puts a wall between the boys who realize "they're taking it out on us." Their silent treatment of their parents works for a while but cannot stop the inevitable from happening.