Comparisons to Romeo and Juliet would suggest a degree of melodrama and forced sentimentality that isn’t to be found in Ira Sachs’ quietly serious and sad film, in which the fallout and damage of financial worry plays out in small and truthfully domestic scenes.
Greg Kinnear plays Brian, a cash-strapped actor whose wife Kathy (played by Jennifer Ehle) supports him and their son, the introverted and artistic Jake. When Brian’s father dies he becomes landlord to struggling dressmaker Leonor and her teenage son Tony, who’d been getting an untenably generous deal on the rent, and sets about entangling the families in a drawn-out and unavoidable dispute that’s heart-wrenching to watch.
The stakes feel crushingly real, and the magic fairy of twee, indie-film goodness never arrives to conjure up a simple solution to the argument. The boys don’t start a successful business together selling hot dogs to raise the money needed to keep everyone happy, instead the audience is left ankle-deep in filthy life-mud as the boys’ bond is both forged and tested by the row.
Brian and Leonor’s muted but scathing discussions are genuinely agonising and mired in barely concealed anger and hurt. But the kids, played by Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri, are the film’s most outstanding performers. The film suggests that there may be more to their relationship, but however it’s defined, the warmth of this nuanced affection is enough to thaw the cold reality in which it has grown. Little Men is an immensely powerful film that finds heart in the most dire of situations.