The death of a parent prompts actor Brian (Greg Kinnear) and his psychotherapist wife (Jennifer Ehle) to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn. There, their artistic young son forms a bond with the son of the shopkeeper below their new home. However, their friendship is soon jeopardised by real estate strife between the adults.
While blockbusters seem hell-bent on reducing New York to rubble, indie filmmakers have been busy exploring a different kind of strife: gentrification. Like Nicole Holofcener’s insightful Please Give, Ira Sachs’ latest is set on a gentler but no less ruthless battlefield. All the usual weapons are in evidence – passive-aggression, guilt trips, whispered threats of legal action – as Greg Kinnear’s struggling actor and his breadwinning wife try to relieve their own finances by tripling the rent on the Brooklyn property they’ve just inherited. Standing to suffer from this is the fretful Chilean shopkeeper (Narcos’ Paulina Garcia), whose subsidised rent has kept her dressmaking store viable.
Under a different director’s gaze, there’d be an explicit invitation to take sides in the fallout. But for Sachs, as sympathetic a chronicler of modern city life as exists, the focus is in observing the impact this strife has on the kids rather than judging the adults. The 'little men' of the title, Jake (newcomer Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Michael Barbieri), form a natural bond that shows up their parents’ awkward interactions and makes its collateral damage all the more painful to witness.
If the pair make unlikely pals – the former shy, arty, dressed like Max from Rushmore; the latter extrovert, fiery, “with a thing for red heads” – their friendship is relatable throughout. All the video-game-playing, can-kicking exuberance of youth is on display, but Sachs is also at pains to show their smarts, warmth and humanity too. Both kids are terrific, holding their own in a seasoned cast, as the director's empathy towards all his characters, young and old, make this a warm and winning tale.
Following up Love Is Strange with another slice of urban bohemia, Sachs’ latest is another gem that's full of heart and warmth.