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Toronto Film Review: ‘Giant Little Ones’

The high-school coming-out subgenre gets a pleasing if familiar addition in this Canadian seriocomedy.

Keith Behrman
Josh Wiggins, Darren Mann, Taylor Hickson, Maria Bello, Kyle MacLachlan, Niamh Wilson, Hailey Kittle, Peter Outerbridge, Stephanie Moore, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scriven, Evan Marsh, Carson MacCormac, Jeff Clarke.

1 hour 34 minutes

Amiable “Giant Little Ones” treads familiar ground in the teenage coming-out narrative subgenre, from the protagonist’s suddenly confused BFF relationship to photogenic swim-team participation and the usual array of seriocomic support types. But Canadian writer-director Keith Behrman’s first big-screen feature since debut “Flower & Garnet” in 2002 is also polished and lively, with just enough fresh angles to avoid feeling like a rote recycling of gay cinema tropes. It has decent potential to attract niche offshore theatrical exposure in addition to digital-format sales.

Floppy-haired Franky (Josh Wiggins) is a popular high-schooler just turning 16, inseparable from longtime best bud Ballas (Darren Mann). Both have girlfriends, though Ballas claims to have done the deed — a lot — with his, while Franky remains a virgin. Landing in the same bed at the end of Franky’s drunken birthday celebration, the two boys “experiment.” The morning after, both are discomfited by their interlude, Franky in no small part because he’s semi-estranged from the father (Kyle MacLachlan) who left his still-embittered mother (Maria Bello) for a man. But it’s Ballas who defensively blabs the gossipy news to his g.f. Soon the entire school is whispering about Franky as a closet case who came onto his mortified bestie … which is not exactly what happened.

Suddenly a target for homophobes, shunned by his swim team mates and cut off by Ballas, Franky finds unexpected solace in the company of the latter’s hitherto hostile sister Natasha (Taylor Hickson), who’s been bullied herself. Their tentative romance is greeted with skepticism by all, though in truth Franky simply isn’t sure yet where his sexual identity lies — he’s gotten pushed from one bracket to another before he’s had a chance to figure out who or what he really is.

Some of the better ideas here include the film’s embrace of Franky’s sexual ambiguity and the problems created not just by gay-baiting haters but by those overeager to accept his presumed homosexuality. Erring on that side to a degree is MacLachlan’s Ray, whose scenes are a bit stilted even beyond the dramatized strain between father and son: Behrman already hits enough pro-tolerance instructional points without needing a gay parent figure to spell them out with classroom-worthy laboriousness.

Indeed, the adult roles here (including executive producer Bello’s) aren’t particularly interesting. But the more important juvenile ones are well-drawn and generally well-played, if occasionally over-the-top, as in the case of Niamh Wilson as a lesbian teen so butch she has penis envy. The cast is likable and attractive, although admittedly all that swim-team eye candy — so many barely clad, toned young bodies rippling through water in slow-mo — is a well-worn gay-cinema cliche.

In the tradition of nearly every high-school movie since John Hughes’ heyday, this one is a bit over-wallpapered with montages set to tracks by various artists, even if music supervisor Chris Douridas keeps the latter menu diverse enough.

The story is somewhat predictable in its beats, and arrives at a free-at-last conclusion that’s not entirely convincing. But the Sault Ste. Marie-shot film is ultimately ingratiating and slickly crafted enough to rise above those limitations. Guy Godfree’s widescreen cinematography is a particular plus.

Toronto Film Review: 'Giant Little Ones'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentation), Sept. 10, 2018. Running time: 94 MIN.

Production: (Canada) A Mongrel presentation of a euclid431 production in association with Storyboard Entertainment, Sugar Shack Prods., Scythia Films and Vigilante Prods. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Toronto.) Producer: Allison Black. Executive producers: Maria Bello, Patrice Theroux, Nathan Morlando, Ricky Blumenstein, Jason Potash, Paul Finkel, Hussain Amarshi, Daniel Bekerman, Mark Gingras, John Laing. Co-producers: Karen Shaw, Lauren Grant.

Crew: Director, writer: Keith Behrman. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Guy Godfree. Editor: Sandy Pereira. Music: Michael Brook.

With: Josh Wiggins, Darren Mann, Taylor Hickson, Maria Bello, Kyle MacLachlan, Niamh Wilson, Hailey Kittle, Peter Outerbridge, Stephanie Moore, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scriven, Evan Marsh, Carson MacCormac, Jeff Clarke.

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