[Review] Giant Little Ones

A birthday present flare gun lights up the night air, amidst cheers between the two boys who shot it. While this act marks the beginning of the narrative, it climaxes the relationship between two high school best friends, Franky (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (Darren Mann). Well, the figurative climax, I should say, because the other one happens a little later; furtive movement beneath covers. Unseen fumbling. Until Ballas flees the sheets and Franky’s room in embarrassment. An event that in a lot of coming-of-age stories should mark the consummation of a relationship, marks the end of one in Giant Little Ones.

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Franky and Ballas have been friends since children and do practically everything together. They both are on the swim team, where they playfully roughhouse in the locker room showers in the way that teen bros do. They have a playful intimacy, with Ballas sharing sordid details of his sex life with his girlfriend Jess (Kiana Madeira) and trying to push Franky to finally have sex with his girlfriend Priscilla (Hailey Kittle). But Franky seems anxious around Priscilla and fidgets with his earphones or anything else at hand. He adamantly tells her he’s “totally” into her, but it comes out forced. Something is nagging at him.

On Franky’s 17th birthday, his frankly too indulgent mother Carly (Maria Bellow) allows him to throw an adultless party at their house. Ballas, Jess and Priscilla use this as a way to finally end Franky’s virginity. But as the night goes on, people get drunk and Priscilla has to go home early. So Franky and Ballas end up getting even more wasted. The previously mentioned flare gun pops. The sheets get tussled. And a friendship ends.

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The next day, Ballas is a completely different person towards Franky. Aloof and rude. For some reason Ballas decides to tell his girlfriend that Franky made the moves on him and before you know it, the whole school thinks Franky is gay and he ends up a social pariah. His life becomes miserable, as the swim team, already divided about a gay kid on the team, hurls homophobia at him, busting spirit, friendships and his face. Josh Wiggins plays Franky perfectly, with a mix of naivete and confusion. His transition from one of the most popular kids in school to an outcast is beautifully portrayed and you can see the absolute hurt in his eyes from the constant betrayals as his life is torn apart.

This is the basic setup of Giant Little Ones, but the story is a whole lot more complicated. Even before he messed around with Ballas, Franky has dealt with internalized homophobia in the surprising form of his father, Ray (a fantastic Kyle MacLachlan). Sometime before the movie begins, Ray came out, moved out, and now lives with his male beau. Franky wants nothing to do with him, for a number of reasons. Obviously, he feels betrayed. But there’s a lingering sense of homophobia because he probably sees a bit of himself in his dad.

Then there’s Tash (Taylor Hickson), Ballas’s sister who is introduced by slamming shut her locker, where the word “SLUT” is scrawled in marker. Tash and Franky used to be friends at some point, but it’s a little murky why it fell apart. But with both of them pariahs, they become friends again and their relationship swerves from platonic to flirtatious and back. This is where the complicated parts of life and sexuality truly come into play and Giant Little Ones becomes more than a simple coming-of-age story.

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Because writer/director Keith Behrman’s lusciously shot film is not really about coming out. Instead, it’s about the transition from a teen to a man, complete with an understanding of one’s self. It’s about Franky coming to terms with who he is and how he fits in the world. That understanding that hopefully leads to epiphany and balance. It plays with the idea that this younger generation are more sexually fluid and yet staunchly still afraid of the otherness that comes with sexuality. What begins as a fairly traditional coming out story actually--and I hate to use this overused term--transcends the genre to be something more.

Franky is forced to confront what sexuality means for himself and to find that self-acceptance. Not as gay. Not as straight. But as an actual human being with complex thoughts, feelings and ideals of sexuality. Coming of age stories are my jam so I was predisposed to enjoying Giant Little Ones; but it’s much more grown-up and nuanced than I ever expected a teen movie to be. Frustratingly vague in spots, it doesn’t offer easy answers. But it moved me in ways I didn’t expect and, just like sexuality, is absolutely wonderful and complex. Giant Little Ones is that rare movie that can’t be missed.