You know how there are times in your life when you say what's on your mind and immediately wish you could take it back but it's too late, and other times when you need to say something but don't because you worry it will alter your life irrevocably? Well, Ira Sachs encapsulates both of those dilemmas elegantly in Little Men. The men in question are Jake Jardine (Theo Taplitz), a budding artist, and Tony Calvelli (Michael Barbieri), an aspiring actor, who become fast friends when the former's grandfather dies, prompting the Jardines to move into his Brooklyn apartment, which so happens to be over the latter's mother's struggling dress shop. The extent of that struggle becomes a bone of contention between the two families when it comes out that Jake's grandfather hasn't raised the rent in years. Clearly something has to give, and the boys would rather it not be their friendship.
Among the actual adults in the equation, economic anxiety is the overriding factor in their interactions. Jake's father Brian (Greg Kinnear) is a none-too-successful actor whose career is effectively subsidized by his psychotherapist wife Kathy (Jennifer Ehle). Meanwhile, Tony's mother Leonor (Paulina García) fruitlessly tries to stave off the inevitable by ducking out of conversations with her new landlords, especially when it appears as if the discussion is going to turn to financial matters. Unfortunately, when she does get backed into a corner, she's prone to saying things that only exacerbate the situation, compounded by Brian's aversion to confrontations. "I just don't want this to get ugly," he says right before they start eviction proceedings, all but guaranteeing they will. As for Jake and Tony, their protest takes the form of giving their parents the silent treatment, a gambit that backfires spectacularly.
Not that there's much in the way of pyrotechnics to be found here. Sachs's script, written with regular collaborator Mauricio Zacharias, pointedly avoids emotional outbursts. Instead, the big moments are kept to a minimum, allowing the cast (which also includes Alfred Molina as Hernan, Leonor's friend from Chile) to deliver unforced, naturalistic performances. This is especially true of Taplitz and Barbieri, both making their feature debuts. Barbieri already has a couple of high-profile projects lined up (including the latest Spider-Man reboot), but I suspect we'll be seeing a lot of both of these little men in the coming years.