Two popular teen boys, best friends since childhood, discover their lives, families, and girlfriends dramatically upended after an unexpected incident occurs on the night of a 17th birthday party.
The recent multiple-Oscar-winner, Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, along with Greg Berlanti’s teen dramedy Love, Simon, are both coming-of-age/coming out stories about young men discovering their sexuality, and themselves. While Guadagnino was more poetic, painting broad, resonant strokes on a large canvas, Berlanti reigned in his artistic impulses, focusing on telling a succinct story with a specific audience (young adults) in mind. Writer/director Keith Behrman’s new dramedy, Giant Little Ones, leans more towards the latter approach, viewing the stark prejudice that still reigns supreme, despite all the #MeToos and #Time’sUps.
In fact, Behrman examines the very roots of such prejudice, suggesting it’s spawned in high school cesspools of discrimination and exclusion. He touches upon parenting methods, implying that intolerance may be deeply embedded by your folks. Yet the focal – and most touching – point of the film is its lead performance by Josh Wiggins, buoying the proceedings with his warm and realistic portrayal.
“…he and his buddy end up entangled in each other’s arms on the night of Franky’s 17th birthday.”
Franky (Wiggins) and Ballas (Darren Mann) are BFFs, living the dream teenage life. Both popular at school, they ride their bikes through the suburban streets of their nuclear-family neighborhood, party, get into fights, shoot off flare guns and talk about sex – your typical teenage boys, on the brink of adulthood. While Ballas is more of a jock, not to mention sexually experienced, Franky’s just about to pop the cherry with his girlfriend Cil (Hailey Kittle) – when, lo and behold, he and his buddy end up entangled in each other’s arms on the night of Franky’s 17th birthday.
Confused and desperate to reaffirm his sexuality, Franky helplessly watches his friendship become more and more strained, as rumors spread and his popularity dissipates. “I’m not queer,” he states, not quite convincingly. Before he knows it, Franky’s become a total outcast, bombarded by toxic masculinity and consequently bonding with another reject, Tash (Taylor Hickson). Franky’s relationship with his divorced parents also comes into play. His father Ray (Kyle MacLachlan) left his mother Carly (Maria Bello) for another man a while back. Franky ultimately (spoiler alert!) forgives and reconnects with Dad.
Kudos to Wiggins for avoiding all the potential pratfalls of playing a “teenager on the brink of self-discovery.” Sensitive and charismatic, both hot- and level-headed, the actor speaks volume with one piercing gaze. The rest of the cast keeps up, especially MacLachlan, who imbues a terrific father-son bonding sequence towards the end of the film with real gravitas.
“…gently explores the nuances of sexuality, avoiding straightforward answers.”
Behrman gently explores the nuances of sexuality, avoiding straightforward answers. Even in today’s purportedly “accepting” society, we still have a long way to go. “I thought it was socially acceptable these days for kids to experiment,” Carly says to emphasize this point. What’s most interesting is that beneath the “gay themes,” Giant Little Ones can also be seen as a study of how quickly a social status can disintegrate, with one tiny straw breaking a gargantuan camel’s back.
Sure, the film may lack some real “probing,” and by that, I mean deep philosophical insight with which, say, Guadagnino imbued every sexually-charged scene of his film. Another niggle I have is that the entire cast of characters is composed of affluent white people – in a film that deals with exclusion, would it not be more interesting to have protagonists of different ethnicity that don’t necessarily live in three-story mansions?
That said, Behrman sidesteps overt sentimentality, captures some heartrending moments and most importantly, doesn’t resolve everything with a neat “happily ever after” conclusion. The lasting impression Giant Little Ones casts may not be “giant” – but it’s certainly not “little” either.
Giant Little Ones (2018) Written and Directed by Keith Behrman. Starring Josh Wiggins, Darren Mann, Kyle MacLachlan, Maria Bello.
7 out of 10