Monday, 8 April 2019

GIANT LITTLE ONES: BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL review

Following a late night sexual encounter with his best friend Ballas (Darren Mann), Franky (Josh Wiggins) gets ostracised by his high school swimming team, dumped by his girlfriend Cil (Hailey Kittle) and becomes the target of bullies. Hoping to handle the situation and rebuild his friendship with the resistant Ballas without the interference of others, he shuns the offer of guidance from his single mother (Maria Bello) and his homosexual father (Kyle Maclachlan) that he cut out of his life after their divorce.



Queer coming of age stories have become increasingly present on our cinema screens, with The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Love, Simon and Call Me By Your Name a few examples of films that managed to reach a wide audience. Giant Little Ones appears to tick many of the same boxes as Love, Simon - the all American male lead, complex parental relationship, the high school setting and the trauma of being outed against their will. What sets Giant Little Ones apart is a story that is more complex than it first seems, its main character's journey less predictable than it appears.

It's a beautiful looking modern suburbia, with complicated and disassembled family units occupying wide streets with bicycling kids and late night fireworks. To an outsider of that world it's both realistic and somewhat magical, the early scenes show an idyllic American teenage life before a loss of innocence changes everything. Giant Little Ones also convincingly encapsulates some aspects of the spectrum of high school sexuality and the grown-ups' struggle to keep up. There's a thrill to Cil's early encounters with Franky and her desire to lose her virginity to him in the right way (his offer of sneaking off to the park after dark is quickly dismissed), and some overreactions from the teachers who see the bullying of one of Franky's gay classmates and decide to segregate the locker room. In this world of sexual relationships and identity that is opening up to them, it's not easy to announce yourself in any way or stray from the pack.

Although this film is Franky's experience he isn't the most interesting character in his own story, he's just found himself in an extraordinary situation. That sounds like a slight against the film, but there's an array of interesting secondary characters (notably most of whom are female) that offer council to Franky whilst dealing with their own issues. Mouse (Niamh Wilson), a girl exploring her gender identity by stuffing her shorts with a mock penis is comfortable in exploring who she is and is seemingly judgement free from the majority of the school, apart from Franky pointing out that her substitute penis is almost comically large. Another stand out is Taylor Hickson's Natasha, the sister of Ballas and old friend of Franky's. A survivor of assault with a tendency to drink too much, she is treated by her parents and former friends as damaged, unable to rebuild her life and find her way back to normality. Both of these young women have stories as complex, if not more so, as Franky.

The biggest problem the film has is how Franky's relationship with Ballas, very much the core of the story in the early scenes, falls by the wayside for a large portion of the story. Obviously there is a chasm that has opened up between them and their conflict is addressed in a typically masculine display of violence in the film's most troubling scene, but the film sets up a unique dilemma between these best friends which could have been better explored. Apart from that there's a lot to like about the film, not least the performances by its young cast, lead by Hilary Swank lookalike Josh Wiggins.

Whilst not immune to skipping around the odd cliche, what is most admirable about Giant Little Ones is how it subverts the coming out story and brings in supporting characters (Franky's female friends, his parents, including a great turn by Kyle Maclachlan) to paint a much larger, complicated picture about teenage sexuality and fighting back against the norm.

Verdict
3.5/5

No comments:

Post a comment