By Julianna Perkins
Giant Little Ones, a new film from Canadian director Keith Behrman, successfully completed its world premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Giant Little Ones is the latest from Behrman, who’s previous film Flower & Garnet won the 2002 Canadian Screen Award for Best First Feature. It’s clear the Saskatchewan native intends to keep strong performances coming.
Right from the start, the film invites us to get lost in a close up of protagonist Franky’s soft and boyish face. We’re drawn in to observe his subtle freckles and cheeky smile – we watch as his hair tousles in the wind. There’s very little doubt about what you’re going to see; this is a coming-of-age movie.
The next thing to hit you is the music. The entire film is excellently scored and incorporates upbeat, electronic compositions with deep bass into the most unlikely scenes. The sound alone is one of the biggest factors that keep Giant Little Ones from collapsing into melancholic mush.
The movie, filmed in Sault Ste. Marie, centres on Franky (Josh Wiggins), a 17-year-old boy whose family life becomes exceptionally complicated after his father (Kyle MacLachlan) comes out as gay and his parents separate. Franky is resentful and channels his frustration into swimming and by falling deeper into the arms of old friends and new girlfriends.
In true coming-of-age film fashion, on the night of his 17th birthday, Franky has a sexual encounter that immediately jeopardizes every close relationship he has. He’s thrown into the bowels of bullying, social isolation and tough conversations. But going against the stereotypical grain of most other coming-of-age films, Giant Little Ones delves deeper into the nuances of sexuality in the millennial age, toxic masculinity and the idea that sometimes being okay is the best you can hope for.
Wiggins’ performance, and indeed the performances of the entire cast, are truly the legs on which the film stands. Thanks to the depth and sincerity of the actor’s performances, Giant Little Ones avoids becoming a cheeseball teenage pity-fest and instead creates beautiful little moments in even the saddest circumstances. Genuine emotion is allowed to come through because the actors don’t over-act; their subtlety is their greatest strength.
The film would have been stronger, however, if the admirable acting hadn’t been cut down by subpar writing. Much of the dialogue, probably intended to provide comedic relief, ended up instead garnering a collective audience eye-roll. Such gems included the teenage classics “no, I’m totally into you,” “it never would’ve happened if we weren’t wasted” and my personal favourite, “my mom is ruining my life!”
The messy writing translates further into a messy plot, as the movie somehow feels both fast-paced and slow burning, ultimately lacking focus. You’re never sure if the main theme was Franky’s bullying, Franky coming to terms with his identity, Franky learning he’s not the only person facing tough situations, or a combination of all three.
Throw in a queer-best-friend character that materializes out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly, and an irrelevant, completely comedically-gratuitous scene about three-quarters of the way in and you’re left wanting to take a red pen to the script to preserve its sensitivity.
Writing aside, Behrman’s directorial hand paints the screen in a constant palette of blues, which complement the film’s clean cinematography and soft focus. Our eyes are never bored and intention is translated repeatedly through visual action, sparing unnecessary dialogue. Visually, Giant Little Ones is an underrated success.
Even if the film is a mixed bag in the mechanical sense, Giant Little Ones’ intentions and acting put it a notch above any stereotypical coming-of-age movie. The characters are genuine, the storyline is complex and at its core, there is a complicated takeaway for everyone. You might just see a little bit of yourself in Franky’s matured gaze as the film fades out of one final close-up.