Following 2014's acclaimed Love Is Strange, Little Men is another very New York story with real estate concerns from director-writer Ira Sachs.

It's is also a rare big screen tale of boyhood, delivering a poignant portrait of the friendship that arises between shy arty Jake and rambunctious wannabe-actor Tony after Jake's parents become upstairs landlords to the Brooklyn neighbourhood dress shop run by Tony's mum.

The film's two young teenage leads, Michael Barbieri (Antonio) and Theo Taplitz (Jake), sure give those Stranger Things kids a run for their money.

Michael Barbieri as Antonio.
Michael Barbieri as Antonio.

Around them rages an adult battle of wills.

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Jake's Manhattanite parents - struggling actor Brian (Greg Kinnear) and psychotherapist Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) must adjust to life in the Brooklyn apartment they have inherited from Brian's late father.

Meanwhile, Antonio's solo mother Leonor (Paulina Garcia from Chilean hit Gloria) knows her shop's low rent will soon be up for review. She has her own passive aggressive way of dealing with the couple who are at pains to break the news gently.

Kathy attempts to bring in her skills in conflict resolution while a quietly seething Leonor just confronts Brian with his own guilt about not being much of a son to his late father or much of a bread-winner as his stage career falters.

Kinnear brings back that thing he has for playing fathers wracked by self-doubt (see also Little Miss Sunshine.)

Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle in Little Men.
Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle in Little Men.

But really, the movie belongs to the two 13-year-olds who, as they scooter the streets of a sun-baked increasingly gentrified Brooklyn, hatch a plan to attend an arts high school together.

But they find their friendship threatened by the upstairs-downstairs tension.

It's a character study in which the bigger dramas are going on elsewhere - Kathy has suicidal patients while Brian is in a production of Chekhov's The Seagull, with suicidal characters.

The best actors-acting-as-actors scene, though, comes not from Kinnear but one involving Antonio in his theatre class. It gives this low-key film a much needed jolt of energy on its way to a defiantly inconclusive ending.

A bittersweet charmer.


Cast: Michael Barbieri, Theo Taplitz, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia
Director: Ira Sachs
Rating: PG (adult themes)
Running time: 85 mins
Verdict: Enjoyable Big Apple slice of lifer