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Magnolia Pictures

Little Men (2016)

Ira Sachs's "Love Is Strange" had moments of inspiration from top to bottom; but the most finely honed of all was the last one, when the story of two longtime companions in their 60s ended by drifting dreamily down the generations and following a pair of teenagers on a wordless glide through New York, skateboarding into a future of infinite possibilities. His new film "Little Men" starts with the relationship between two 13-year-old boys and looks up at the adult world of labor and gentrification from there, admitting that the possibilities might not be so infinite in practice. Life goes messily on anyway.

One of the them is Jake (Theo Taplitz) — artistic, reserved, watchful — back in Brooklyn with his parents, Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), after a family inheritance; the other is Tony (Michael Barbieri), boisterous and theatrical and bouncy enough for the pair of them plus a few more besides. Circumstances bring Tony's Chilean single mother, Leonor (Paulina Garcia), into conflict with Brian and Kathy over the terms of Leonor's lease on her dressmaking shop, but only because of the couple's own economic problems.

Voices are raised from time to time, but these are adult disputes with long fuses of frustration, fret and disappointment; and Mr. Sachs is too canny to tie any of them in neat bows of either resolution or violence. The boys' friendship floats over the top of the turbulence, a bond that looks all set to last forever; but the director is too canny for that, too. Instead, he builds the story out of small compassionate details that lean gently into each other — the kind of screen storytelling that looks easy until you try it, visiting these characters' lives for a spell before drifting away. You find them in trouble, see no solution, but have faith in their bruised survival anyway. Tony — extrovert and charming and at one point caught in a gloriously unruly shouting match with his acting teacher during an exercise — will probably survive to become president; but then so might the actor playing him.


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