×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Little Boxes’

Rob Meyer's culture-clash comedy is low on dramatic incident but high on likability.

With:
Melanie Lynskey, Nelsan Ellis, Armani Jackson, Oona Laurence, Janeane Garofalo, Christine Taylor, Miranda McKeon, Maliq Johnson, Nadia Dajani, Veanne Cox, David Charles Ebert, Will Janowitz.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5030402/

A family of three experiences a culture clash with their move from New York City to suburban Washington in “Little Boxes.” The second film from director Rob Meyer (whose “A Birder’s Guide to Everything” bowed at Tribeca three years ago) is low on dramatic incident but high on likability thanks to its central trio played by Melanie Lynskey, Nelsan Ellis and Armani Jackson. Gently touching on issues of race, class and privilege, the aptly titled pic proves to be a modest work in every way. Theatrical exposure will be negligible at best, but fans of the actors should find it a pleasant enough diversion on VOD or streaming outlets.

Accustomed to the diversity and intellectual pursuits of big city living, but frustrated with diminishing career opportunities, photographer Gina (Lynskey) accepts a cushy college job that requires a cross country move to Rome, Washington. Her writer hubby Mack (Ellis) is struggling to get through his second book, and their 11-year-old son Clark (Jackson) loves listening to jazz and reading the adventures of Nigel Fishponds (the film’s equivalent of Harry Potter). Blissfully unaware of the lifestyle change that awaits, they embark on their next chapter with the greatest of expectations.

The warning signs quickly pile up when they arrive in their spacious new house several days ahead of their belongings, and Mack almost immediately senses something rotten beneath the surface (there’s mold in them thar walls). The next few days present a series of challenges for each member of the family, as they meet potential new friends drawn to these seemingly exotic strangers (a little bit because they’re an interracial couple with a biracial child, but even more because they hail from the Big Apple).

It’s young Clark who gets the biggest arc, involving precocious peer Ambrosia (Oona Laurence of “Southpaw”) who takes one look at the new kid and excitedly exclaims, “We totally needed a black kid. This town, it’s so white!” to lanky pal Julie (newcomer Miranda McKeon). Ambrosia sets her sights on seduction, armed with the uncomfortably provocative dance moves of fictional hip-hop star Two Bit (who, one of the kids notes matter-of-factly, “used to be a ho”), and plots to get Clark alone during one of their unsupervised after-school hangouts in Julie’s home.

Meanwhile, Gina finds herself drawn into a clique of arty professors lead by assertive Helena (Janeane Garofalo), who devote most of their days to alcohol and gossip, and Mack wanders the neighborhood looking for inspiration and finding only the gregarious head of the homeowner’s association (David Charles Ebert), who is a little too eager to prove he’s totally not a racist (spoiler alert: he totally is).

As scripted by filmmaker Annie J. Howell, “Little Boxes” attempts to bridge a presumably great divide between urban and suburban, intellectuals and regular Joes, and the good-natured and no doubt well-intentioned effort can’t help but come off somewhat condescending in the process. The idea that Gina and Mack are both judged and judgy (they face their own prejudices in dealing with Ambrosia’s working class single mom, nicely underplayed by Christine Taylor) is intended to underscore the “Crash”-like theme that we’re all a little bit prejudiced, sans any heavy handed speeches or handwringing.

The exploration of pre-teen sexuality emerges as a similarly mixed bag, with Laurence asked to shimmy around and undress discreetly in uncomfortable scenes of kids awkwardly adopting adult behavior that the generally lighthearted film can’t quite support.

But “Little Boxes” functions much better as a portrait of a family unit, especially by allowing the often underserved talents of Lynskey and Ellis to take turns in the spotlight. Their knack for crafting warm, funny and credible characters is capably matched by the promising skills of captivating tween Jackson (who recurred on “Grey’s Anatomy”). Even as some of the supporting players and subplots veer toward caricature, the family dynamics at the film’s center remain entirely relatable.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Little Boxes'

Reviewed online, Los Angeles, April 14, 2016. (In Tribeca Film Festival -- Spotlight.) Running time: 89 MIN.

Production: A Mighty Engine, Related Pictures and Gilbert Films production. Produced by Jared Ian Goldman, Jordan Horowitz, Ken Keller, Caron Rudner. Executive producers, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Wyatt Gatling, Marc H. Simon, Gary Gilbert, Rose Troche. Co­-producer, Rosemary Lombard.

Crew: Directed by Rob Meyer. Screenplay, Annie J. Howell. Camera (color, HD), Thomas Richmond; editor, Marc Vives; music, Kris Bowers; music supervisor, Brian Sprouse; production designer, Neil Patel; art director, Ann McKinnon; set decorator, Abigail Benavides; costume designer, Charlese Antionette Jones; sound, Jim Morgan; supervising sound editor, Michael McMenomy; re-recording mixer, Josh Berger; choreographer, David Sincere Aiken; stunt coordinator, Manny Siverio; assistant director, Karen Devane; casting, Avy Kaufman.

With: Melanie Lynskey, Nelsan Ellis, Armani Jackson, Oona Laurence, Janeane Garofalo, Christine Taylor, Miranda McKeon, Maliq Johnson, Nadia Dajani, Veanne Cox, David Charles Ebert, Will Janowitz.

More Film

  • Screen writer Beau WillimonMary Queen of

    Beau Willimon Re-Elected as President of Writers Guild of America East

    Beau Willimon, the playwright and showrunner who launched Netflix’s “House of Cards,” has been re-elected without opposition to a two-year term as president of the Writers Guild of America East. Willimon also ran unopposed in 2017 to succeed Michael Winship. Kathy McGee was elected to the vice president slot over Phil Pilato. Secretary-treasurer Bob Schneider [...]

  • Running With the Devil review

    Film Review: 'Running With the Devil'

    A retired Navy SEAL who for a time was a military advisor on the Colombian drug trade, Jason Cabell conceived his first solo feature as writer-director to tell the story of that particular commerce “from the point of view of the drugs.” The result isn’t exactly a docudrama indictment like “Traffic,” a thriller a la [...]

  • Sweetheart review

    Blumhouse's 'Sweetheart' Sets October Digital Release From Universal (EXCLUSIVE)

    After making waves at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the Blumhouse project “Sweetheart” is set to hit digital and on demand platforms. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will offer the film on all major streaming hubs and paid video on demand come Oct. 22, unleashing the creature feature which stars Kiersey Clemons in a harrowing tale [...]

  • Bob OdenkirkAFI Awards Luncheon, Los Angeles,

    Bob Odenkirk to Star in Thriller 'Nobody'

    “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk has signed on to star in the thriller “Nobody.” The Universal pic follows Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk), a suburban dad, overlooked husband, nothing neighbor — a “nobody.” When two thieves break into his home one night, Hutch’s unknown long-simmering rage is ignited and propels him on a brutal path that [...]

  • Demi Moore Corporate Animals

    Demi Moore Teases Upcoming Memoir 'Inside Out,' Talks 'Corporate Animals' Team Bonding

    As Demi Moore gears up for the Sept. 24 release of her autobiography “Inside Out,” the actress says she feels like a weight has been lifted. “Even the stuff that I may have been nervous about is completely lifting…because it’s a process,” Moore told Variety at the premiere of her upcoming film “Corporate Animals” at [...]

  • Bloodline

    Film Review: 'Bloodline'

    The manic, filter-free, all-id persona Seann William Scott embodied in the roles that first brought him to attention nearly a couple decades ago — notably teen comedies “Road Trip,” “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and the “American Pie” series — did something inspired with a familiar type. The alpha frat-bro character is usually a villain, or [...]

  • Jack Gilardi, Longtime ICM Partners Agent,

    Jack Gilardi, Longtime ICM Partners Agent, Dies at 88

    Jack Gilardi, a longtime ICM Partners agent who represented such stars as Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone, Jerry Lewis, Charlton Heston and Shirley MacLaine, died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 88. Gilardi was known for his gentlemanly style, love of the Los Angeles Dodgers and his skill at representing top actors. He [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content