Little Men Michael Barbieri Theo Taplitz

Director/co-writer Ira Sachs, maker of 2014’s tender, bittersweet and shrewdly perceptive Love Is Strange, once again brings his insight and compassion to bear on an absorbing drama set in present-day New York, Little Men.

Two 13-year-old boys, shy artistic Jake (Theo Taplitz) and outgoing wannabe actor Tony (Michael Barbieri), become friends after Jake’s struggling actor dad Brian (Greg Kinnear) inherits his late father’s Brooklyn home, which is directly above the dress shop run by Tony’s Chilean immigrant single mother Leonor (Paulina García).

Sachs indicates the boys’ easy rapport with joyous travelling shots showing them breezing through the Brooklyn streets on scooter and roller-blades. By contrast, the relationship between the boys’ parents is full of awkward friction.

Little Men Greg Kinnear Paulina Garcia

Brian is now Leonor’s landlord and his reluctant bid to raise her rent – under pressure from his pushy sister Audrey (Talia Balsam) – is met with stonewalling and emotional manipulation from his tenant. In protest at the feud, Jake and Tony stop talking to their respective parents.

Yet no one here is the villain. Sachs, co-writing again with his Love Is Strange collaborator, Mauricio Zacharias, gives all the characters their share of virtues and flaws. No one is entirely in the right or entirely in the wrong – and it is Sachs’ even-handed empathy that makes Little Men all the more rewarding.

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Certificate PG. Runtime 85 mins. Director Ira Sachs