“Who Rents, Who Buys, Who Tells Your Story?”: I review “Little Men”

“Who Rents, Who Buys, Who Tells Your Story?”: I review “Little Men” August 19, 2016

for First Things:

Little Men, the new gentrification drama from writer/director Ira Sachs (Love Is Strange), has a rich premise and two excellent young stars. Its thinness—its inability to satisfy the expectations it sets up—comes from Sachs’s unwillingness to explore both sides of the class divide in his double story.

Little Men is about the sudden, deep friendship between two thirteen-year-old boys: Jacob (Theo Taplitz), a yearning, driftwood Manhattanite who wants to be an artist, and Antonio (Michael Barbieri), a brash Brooklyn chatterbox who wants to be an actor. And it’s about real estate. Jacob and Tony meet because Jacob’s late grandfather owned the brownstone in which Tony’s mom Leonor (Paulina Garcia) operates a dress shop, selling her own designs. The grandfather dies, leaving the building to Jacob’s father Brian (Greg Kinnear) and aunt (Talia Balsam)—who immediately realize that Leonor hasn’t been paying anything remotely like a market rent. They need/want the money, in part because Brian’s own acting career is fizzling. So they draw up a new lease. And suddenly Jacob’s father is in the process of evicting Tony’s mom.

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