Growing pains of being ‘little men’ lend honesty to film


1 (1)Preston Barta // Editor

The transition from childhood to adulthood, where boys become men and girls become women, is undoubtedly a significant stepping stone in everyone’s life. However, the age at which it happens and how you chose to celebrate the rite of passage entirely depends on where you live and what culture you grow up in.

As adults, when we reflect on the times of entering adolescence, we’ll never forget that time we got in a fist fight with a classmate, tore up the dance floor with our friends at prom, and shared a first kiss with our high school sweetheart — and why should we forget? Whether they were embarrassing moments or incredible ones, they were part of a pivotal time in our lives.

This is what Ira Sachs’ latest feature LITTLE MEN homes in on.

The film focuses on a brief period in the lives of two 13-year-old boys (Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri) whose friendship grows while the hostility between their respective parents (including Greg KinnearJennifer Ehle and Paulina García) intensifies.

Ironically, LITTLE MEN says so much, yet so little. This is not meant to be a jab at the film whatsoever. The film doesn’t feel as big in scope as some of the coming-of-age tales we’re used to seeing on the big screen. Sachs, who directed the endearing 2014 film LOVE IS STRANGE, is not concerned with taking the high road and making his film cinematic in every degree. LITTLE MEN is about authentic representation, for which it succeeds without a shade of gray.

Director Ira Sachs centers LITTLE MEN on the shifting friendship between a pair of adolescent boys. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Director Ira Sachs centers LITTLE MEN on the shifting friendship between a pair of adolescent boys. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

“All my films, on some level or another, are about remembering how intimate you were with your friends when you were young and how that intimacy is difficult to maintain,” Sachs said when we spoke at the USA Film Festival earlier this year. “There’s a lot these two kids in LITTLE MEN don’t notice about difference, which is one of the great things about growing up and being a kid.”

Sachs grew up in Memphis and was actively involved in the Memphis Children’s Theatre, a community of kids who would put on shows for their peers. He described the experience as being “completely diverse” in terms of race, sexuality and class.

“I found that none of my life ever replicated that time in my life. I never saw that diversity again,” Sachs recalled. “I think there’s something about children that allows for people to cross different lines.”

Another candor theme touched on in Sachs’ film is how sometimes the people we connect with during certain phases of our life are not meant to stay in our life as we grow and change.

There comes a time when a friendship has served its purpose and we have to let it go.

“After college you begin to understand some of the major decisions we make are different from others. You start to define yourself based on your work, which often defines friendships,” Sachs said. “People who are doing different things from you have a harder time maintaining connection. You also maybe start to judge people in a different way.”

If you’re noticing that the spark between you and a good friend is beginning to dim, Sachs advises against forcing it to work.

“It’s certainly something I’ve noticed as I’ve reached my 30s and 40s. Even when you think you have a set number of people and are approaching middle age, it still happens and you can lose friends,” Sachs said.

A blossoming friendship such as the one exposed in LITTLE MEN is rare to come by on the big screen. Through their friendship, we learn to value what people have to give, even when it’s not all encompassing. We have to forgive one another and seek totality elsewhere.

LITTLE MEN opens Friday at the Angelika Plano and Dallas.

Feature Photo: Michael Barbieri, left, and Theo Taplitz star in LITTLE MEN, a film about two boys who find their friendship growing even as their parents have a conflict. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.