Longing for connection and full of libidinal teen angst, the two high school protagonists of Giant Little Ones (now in limited theatrical release) evolve in unexpected directions as each chapter of this sleeper gay drama unfolds.
Longtime best friends Franky (freckle-faced Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (beefy, blue-eyed Darren Mann) are on the swim team together. Amidst their high school days and suburban nights of riding bikes around the moody streets of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario the boys must suddenly navigate the rocky aftermath of a drunken sexual encounter between them that throws their friendship into chaos.
Saturated with sexual uneasiness, this exquisite Canadian coming-of-age tale is reminiscent of the classic indie drama, The Ice Storm—but instead of that film’s frozen forboding darkness, Giant Little Ones exudes a warm, if rainy, optimism amidst the struggles of these suburban teens and their classmates and families.
“It never would have happened if we weren’t wasted,” argues the strong, silent and more classically masculine Ballas.
What lies underneath? Is one, or both, or neither of them gay? As the story unfolds, our perspective on this question will radically change. Writer-director Keith Berman achieves a unique dramatic complexity as we watch his characters gradually learning the difference between their own fears and desires and the identities others project upon them. As when Franky’s well-meaning gay dad (Kyle MacLachlan) inaccurately projects his own struggle with the closet onto Franky or when his supportive Mom (Maria Bello) unintentionally pisses him off by reassuring him at the dinner table that it’s okay to “experiment.” The opinions and ideas of others are even evident in Franky’s butch dyke pal (Niamh Wilson) who proudly explains the way to deal with his homophobic swim-team: “Show up tomorrow, head held high, middle finger salute raised. ‘Hello and fuck you’ to anyone who says shit.”
The film’s most surprising (and inspiring) affirmation of sexuality, though, is when the newly bullied Franky, on being taunted with homophobic slurs at school, finds unexpected common cause with Ballas’s sister Tasha (Taylor Hickson), who has long endured having the word “slut” emblazoned on her locker.
An ode to the angular innocent beauty of adolescent boys, this atmospheric teen drama is beautifully shot and edited as it lovingly frames its (often shirtless) stars in the locker room, the swimming pool and the classroom. The film’s perfectly-aching pop soundtrack immerses us in the hormonal intensity of high school—with moody hits from Kid Wise, Freya Ridings, and out gay singer-songwriter Rostam, who sagely advises: “Don’t let it get to you.”
There will be no further plot spoilers here, other than to say that the film deftly and beautifully reveals the truths, the fears, the simultaneous uncertainties and desires of each of its characters in a nuanced way that is rarely seen on screen. Like its heroic protagonists, Giant Little Ones succeeds in transcending the limiting labels we all too often want to assign to others, and even to ourselves.