Released last week in New York and today in Los Angeles, Canadian filmmaker Keith Behrman’s sophomore feature film, Giant Little Ones, isn’t going to take the world by storm, but it’s the type of small, unheralded independent that’s painless to watch and easy to enjoy.
Franky (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (Darren Mann) have been best friends since grade school. On the night of Franky’s 17th birthday, the drunken boys share a bed just to sleep it off until Ballas up and runs from the room. And while everything here points to Franky as the sexual instigator, the truth is that the closeted and self-hating Ballas made the first move by going down on his sleeping friend.
Ballas, a popular high school jock, ignores Franky’s pleas to stay and talk it out; instead, he tells his girlfriend that Franky tried to have sex with him, starting a whisper campaign that “outs” the straight Franky to the school. And while Franky could rightly protest and declare his own innocence, he’s an upright kid, with a recently divorced gay dad (Kyle MacLachlan) and progressive single mom (Maria Bello), who would rather keep his treasured friendship than prove himself heteronormative.
Plus, in a refreshing change of pace from the usual gay panic that happens, Franky — as he tells his father later in the film — wasn’t disgusted or uninterested. He knows he likes girls. He also knows he loves his friend. And the exchange was not, while it lasted, unpleasant.
Behrman’s screenplay was inspired, he has said, when, over the course of a month five years ago in Canada, three or four kids “committed suicide because they were being harassed at school for being gay or being perceived as gay.” Giant Little Ones isn’t about suicide, but it definitely delves into the repercussions of harassment and, what Bello has said is “the fluidity of love and friendships and relationships and sexuality.”
“This is very, very current and a worthwhile subject to be dealing with, but the film does it in such a way that is fresh and fun,” Behrman says. “It’s not like it’s an issue movie; it’s a movie about family and friendship and being authentic to who you are, and not abiding to someone else’s labels.”
Wiggins, an actor who looks like he could be Matt Damon’s younger, cuter brother, either has the right physiognomy for the role (his face is wide and expressive) or is just an expert at playing naiveté and wonder. Franky goes out of his way to empathize with Ballas, often to his own detriment, while also trying to come to terms with his parents’ divorce. He and MacLachlan, first rate here, have the film’s best scenes as they dance around each other with misunderstandings and misread signals.
And Mann, whose placid blonde handsomeness could make him too pretty to take seriously (you know, like Michelle Pfeiffer or Chris Evans when they started), keeps us attuned to the toxic self-loathing and emotional conflict that motivates Ballas’s every move. He might look like the Prom King and act like a bully, but he’s the loneliest person on the screen. Though his body is hot, his soul is wintry.
Behrman doesn’t set up anything we haven’t seen before — the confusion of adolescent sexuality has been mined ad nauseum — but his telling, not to mention his screenplay, is mercifully practical.
When Franky wonders if, like his father, he might be gay because he wasn’t mortified by what happened with Ballas — that he might have enjoyed it — his Dad’s response is clear-eyed and simple. “You had an experience with someone you love.” No melodrama. No judgment.
The movies, and the world, could use more of that kind of wisdom.