Eric McNatt/Magnolia Pictures
'Little Men' stars Michael Barbieri and Theo Taplitz.

'Little Men' is sweet with powerfully understated acting

( PG ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

'Little' stars Theo Taplitz as a young boy living in Brooklyn who befriends a neighbor. A rift between their parents eventually creates a chasm between the two boys as well.

“Little Men” is a sweet, deceptively slight movie about boyhood friendship and parental conflict set against the backdrop of a gentrified New York. Director Ira Sachs, who co-wrote with Mauricio Zacharias, has a plangent feeling for the small-scale travails of “ordinary” people – who, of course, are only ordinary on the surface.

Jake (Theo Taplitz), who is somewhat shy and intellectual, has moved with his parents, Brian (Greg Kinnear), a struggling actor, and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), a psychotherapist, from Manhattan to the Brooklyn apartment Brian inherited from his grandfather, Max. Leonor (Paulina Garcia), the mother of Jake’s new, extroverted best friend, Tony (Michael Barbieri), runs a dress shop in a unit that Max had rented out to her at way below market rate. The rift between Leonor and Jake’s parents, who want to triple the rent, eventually creates a chasm between the two boys as well.

Sachs is the filmic equivalent of a good short story writer; he sketches in the basics and then lets the moments play out minus a lot of bombast. There were times in “Little Men” when I wish he had filled things in a bit more – too often what is intended as spare seemed sparse instead. But he has a genuine feeling for his people’s humanity – no one here is a villain – and the acting is uniformly powerful (and powerfully understated). The film grows in retrospect, as I find is often true for me with Sachs’ work, especially his last film, “Love Is Strange.” A director who cares more about people than camera moves is a rarity these days. Grade: B+ (Rated PG for thematic elements, smoking and some language.)

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