‘Little Men’ Confirms Ira Sachs’ Status as the Next Quintessential New York Director

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For the past few decades, a certain subsection of filmmakers were identified with the city of New York. For decades, it seemed that Woody Allen had the entire market cornered with countless tales that take places along the streets of the Big Apple. But Allen’s films always took place within his own little bubble, mostly of upper class white people with neuroses and relationship problems. Then the mantle was taken up by independent artists like Jim Jarmusch, explore the existential elements of life in the big city. Today, Ira Sachs has taken up the mantle of the quintessential New York filmmaker. His latest film, Little Men, defines Sachs as the New York filmmaker of the modern era with another story that blends real life issues and strong character based drama.

When we first see Jake Jardine (Theo Taplitz), he’s in school being criticized by his teacher for some of his art featuring a green sky with yellow stars. He’s an outcast, an artist in his secluded school life. Things for the Jardine family are about to go through a significant change upon the death of his grandfather. Not long after the funeral, Jake and his parents Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), a psychiatrist, and Brain (Greg Kinnear), a struggling actor, move into his grandfather’s old building in Brooklyn. The downstairs of the building is occupied by a little clothing boutique run by Leonor (Paulina Garcia). It doesn’t take long for Jake to form a close friendship with Leonor’s son Tony (Michael Barbieri), a brash young man with dreams of becoming an actor. As Tony and Jake become closer and closer friends, a rift emerges between the parents. Brian’s sister Audrey (Talia Balsam) wants part of the money from their father’s place, and sees the low rent being paid by Lenore as a means to get what she wants. It sets forth a dispute between the once-close neighbors, affecting the relationship of both young men.

Little Men, which Sachs co-wrote with Mauricio Zacharias, doesn’t move at a break-neck pace. It’s very deliberate in its pacing, like Sachs knows when to slow down and bask in the moment. Even with its modest tempo, Little Men still features no wasted frames or scenes. What unfolds in Little Men very much feels like an extension of Sachs’ last film, Love is Strange, which also dealt with property issues in New York. Sachs is undoubtedly fascinated on the human toll of skyrocketing real estate prices in the Big Apple, and once again he’s crafted a charming, heartbreaking little drama that hits on these issues with amazing clarity and empathy.

The heart and soul of Little Men comes from the bond built between Jake and Tony, and the two young actors excel in their roles. These two young characters are mirrored versions of each other, with Jake occupying the shier characteristics while Tony is loud, brash and over the top at times. There’s never a doubt about the bond that these two form. The only obstacle to their ongoing friendship is the dispute over money and property carried out by the adults. It presents an interesting dynamic where the viewer is left to question just who exactly is the adult in the room.

The heart and soul of Little Men comes from the bond built between Jake and Tony, and the two young actors excel in their roles. These two young characters are mirrored versions of each other, with Jake occupying the shier characteristics while Tony is loud, brash and over the top at times. There’s never a doubt about the bond that these two form. The only obstacle to their ongoing friendship is the dispute over money and property carried out by the adults. It presents an interesting dynamic where the viewer is left to question just who exactly is the adult in the room.

Sachs employs a modest style. His film never unfolds in a stylistic explosion, but still it’s devoid of style. The cinematography by Óscar Durán typically unfolds with long takes through a static camera, but there are times when the camera zooms alongside the young leads as they traverse the streets of New York on their scooters and rollerblades. In a story that surrounds itself with the properties of New York, Sachs is maestro at utilizing the space of the frame, allowing the setting of New York apartments to feel as small as they are. Meanwhile, the streets of New York feel expansive and limitless, like the potential of the main characters if not for the looming threat of real estate disputes from the grown-ups who aren’t always so grown.

With a movie that encapsulates character, setting, and real life issues with such grace, Little Men confirms that Ira Sachs is the next great New York director. He crafts modest stories about human issues and his work overflows with empathy towards his characters, even the ones making the deleterious decisions. Sachs is a director that has his pulse on the city, and his increasing levels of success hasn’t divorced him from the reality of the city that inspires him. Little Men is a beautiful film with genuine emotion exploring a topic that countless people in New York City have to contend with, but never handled with overbearing dramatic weight. For all the hustle and bustle on the streets, Ira Sachs is able to find a moment of quiet reflection in the hearts and minds of those who walk them daily.

Little Men
  • Overall Score
4

Summary

Director Ira Sachs’ latest film, Little Men, is a modestly paced drama set in New York City with a focus on the human toll of rising real estate prices and how money can ruin relationships.

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