IFFBoston 2016: ‘Little Men,’ ‘Don’t Think Twice,’ and ‘The Intervention’

Little Men Review

Film: Little Men
Directed by: Ira Sachs
Starring: Theo Taplitz, Jennifer Ehle, Greg Kinnear

Director/writer Ira Sachs is the kind of artist that cuts through convention to get to the everyday issues that keep us up at night. In a way, his films can be construed as psychologically horrifying. He has a deep understanding of the things that eat away at mental stability until people crack. If he didn’t present them in such an elegiac and encroaching manner, then his films would seem more familiar. Love is Strange is a beautiful and heartbreaking film about finding love when the memory of love is degrading. Little Men fits comfortably into his oeuvre as a two-hander: coming of age film, and a piece on how shouldered guilt may bring the end of relationships.

Jake Jardine’s (Theo Taplitz) grandfather recently passed away, forcing his mother and father (Jennifer Ehle and Greg Kinnear) to move into his Brooklyn brownstone apartment to save money. The tenant who owns the clothing store downstairs, Leonor (Paulina García), has been paying less rent than the current economic times may call for. It also doesn’t help that Jake has formed a close relationship with Leonor’s son, Tony.

While Jake and Tony’s flowering relationship remains as the emotional centerpiece of Little Men, the conflict between Brian (Kinnear) and Leonor is incredibly restrained and nonetheless difficult to sit through. Brian wants to raise rent not only because of his financial needs as a theater actor in off-Broadway productions but because his sister wants a cut of the inheritance from that brownstone. Jake and Tony’s relationship starts to rip from the seams because of the conflict, even taking an oath to not to talk to their parents until everything works itself out. Unfortunately, this isn’t a case that’ll go away without conflict.

That’s the humanity that Sachs cuts into here: unavoidable situations that cause collateral damage. Luckily though, Sachs understands the maelstrom that can become of the rent conflict and lets every actor have natural moments not even catered to the conflict. We see Jake and Tony stumble as they acclimate to the same social group, knowing that they’re two entirely different people — Jake being the artsy and therefore more closed off counterparty to Tony’s raucous and enterprising personality. Even Kinnear, who rarely gets parts that truly flex his acting capabilities, shines here. There’s a deep-seated pain behind this character’s eyes and Kinnear never resorts to extremes to display that. Same goes for Paulina Garcia, who plays Leonor. She’s a proud woman, almost driven to be protective on instinct. Her relationship with Brian’s father is only hinted at but you can still feel years of familial love lost because of their separation.

In a festival chock full of good films, Little Men stands out as the most daring and creative. Not on a formal level, but how it goes about that central conflict. It doesn’t hinder the film from telling so many other stories, and in 85 minutes you’ll feel like you’ve walked through a museum filled with memories, one’s you have no power in curbing to be less painful.

GRADE: A


don't think twice review

Film: Don’t Think Twice
Directed by: Mike Birbiglia
Starring: Kegan-Michael Key, Kate Micucci, Gillian Jacobs

I never really understood or “got” the fun that can be mined from watching improv comedy. It’s a show with so many hills and valleys that you can’t just label it with a non-sequitur. Mike Birbiglia, back with his second feature, understands that there’s so much bad comedy from bad improv that it actually causes a toll on the performers. His solution to that problem: focus on the people who deliver that kind of comedy, dig deep into their insecurities to study what drives them to get on stage every night with close to no financial gain. Unfortunately, Don’t Think Twice is so cluttered that each person and their story gets the short shrift. At least the bad comedy in it is self-aware and therefore funny, right?

Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Miles (Birbiglia), Bill (Chris Gethard), Allison (Kate Micucci), and Lindsay (Tami Sagher) are all best friends and part of an NYC comedy troupe. After Jack gets his big break on a Saturday Night Live-esque comedy show, the troupe begins to fall apart as each member takes stock of their own lives.

Jack and Samantha, the two people dating in the troupe, start falling apart when Jack’s newfound celebrity status starts to cloud his judgment. He’s constantly pushed by his peers to champion their work to the writers at his show. The cost of fame in Don’t Think Twice is high, it even eats at the bond that held the troupe together; their lives of drinking in dive bars and performing every night brought to a halt when real life actually gets in the way. Sounds sort of profound, right? Well, Birbiglia doesn’t treat it as such. His direction is at times in your face and almost always unwieldy in trying to find the next logical place to take these characters.

Luckily for him, the cast are masters of their craft. Jacobs is endearing as the one member of the group okay with just being a poor improv performer. Birbiglia is funny and depressing as a mid-30s schlub realizing it may be too late to start anything, as is Birbiglia’s wont. Sagher, Micucci, and Sagher all bolster the wandering in the story with laughs and personality. It’s just too bad that Don’t Think Twice is a movie with good intentions and big aspirations that can’t quite seem to get out of its own way.

GRADE: C


the intervention review

Film: The Intervention
Directed by: Clea Duvall
Starring: Cobie Smulders, Melanie Lynskey, Vincent Piazza

As the closing night movie, The Intervention had a bit of a burden to bear. At IFF Boston, the opening and closing night films usually have the most ticket sales and end up being the highest in celebrity profile. It’s not the kind of film seen at midnight on a Saturday to a crowd of 50 people, it’s got to appease hundreds of people on a weeknight. First-time director Clea DuVall almost seems conscious of that fact, crafting something that is easily digestible but nonetheless exciting to watch. The Intervention is an actor’s movie and she couldn’t have found better talent to carry out her writing.

Four couples go on vacation, only to realize that ulterior motives are driving the weekend. One couple’s (Vincent Piazza and Cobie Smulders) marriage is falling apart and their close friends have taken it upon themselves to intervene. Laughs and tears ensue.

Duvall may not be an expert aesthetician, obscuring closeups and things happening in the foreground, but she is almost an immediate expert at directing actors. Everyone is always in the right place for each scene, almost too orchestrated to let the moments fly. Again, she’s employed such a great cast that the material that can easily be driven into the ground by being misconstrued as “white people taking stock of their lives” shines in more than a few moments.

Melanie Lynskey stands out as Annie, the alcoholic overlord of the marriage intervention. She pisses and moans about Ruby and Peter’s marriage as if it were a coping mechanism for her own relationship with Matt (Jason Ritter). The antics that can become of such a colored character like Annie are restrained by Lynskey and inserted in the moments of dead air, almost as if this character is simultaneously destroying everything and building it again in her own image. It’s an exciting, hilarious performance to watch and it’s only one of the great things to see in The Intervention.

Cobie Smulders stands out, as well. Her Ruby is immediately caustic to her husband, blinded by whatever has caused their marriage to turn toxic. But, dear God, give that actress a reason to resent and lash out in subtle ways and she’ll deliver better than anyone working in the business today. Once again, DuVall’s work is reined in by masters of their craft.

The Intervention may be hit-and-miss but DuVall is a clear talent and I can’t wait to see her next work, if not only for her comfortability with working with actors.

GRADE: B-

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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