Rarely do coming of age films adopt a level of nuance as deep as Giant Little Ones, the 2018 drama written and directed by Keith Behrman.
The film is a major success because of its purposeful investigation and subversion of teen film tropes. Above all else, it entrusts the young central characters with a more accurate emotional intelligence and a capacity for reading unspoken cues from their peers, a detail often erased or overlooked in similar films of the genre.
Giant Little One‘s familiar premise focuses on two average teen boys. Both athletic and relatively carefree, the two rule suburbia. They flock to and from school together on their bikes, attend swim practice, and crack jokes all day long. Their dynamic is that which any high school alum(na) can relate to. This establishment makes the source conflict of the film that much more compelling.
The boys, Franky and Ballas, spend the bulk of their time either with each other or their respective girlfriends.
Early in the film, Franky has a birthday party, hoping to be able to sneak his girlfriend over for a sleepover. Instead, his mom comes home and the party is abruptly screeched to a halt. Rather than let the gathering cut short the fun of the evening, Franky and Ballas continue to get into trouble, drinking and firing a flare gun around town. The night ends with Ballas making a reciprocated sexual advance on Franky, soon after fleeing the scene and changing their relationship forever.
The inciting incident of Giant Little Ones isn’t unclaimed terrain. In fact, most sexually fluid coming of age films share similar scenes early on. What Behrman does so flawlessly here is completely dodge any and all expectations. At this point in the film, viewers are led to believe certain things about Franky and Ballas. When Franky’s past and family history is slowly unraveled along with the more explicit details of his encounter with Ballas on his birthday, viewers are treated to an entirely new type of film – one that forgoes the anticipated gimmicks and replaces them with authentic conversations and situations.
More, Franky’s character continues to develop over the course of the narrative in extremely fresh ways. His relationship with his family deepens, his maturity grows, and his attitudes and empathy towards Ballas and his family evolve.
Not just in the primary storyline does Behrman pen fresh takes on modern adolescence.
Franky’s classmate Mouse, for example, is a well crafted blend of comic relief and another opportune avenue for exploring the sexual spectrum. Mouse, a young woman, is potentially thinking of transitioning, and her journey is detailed in a subtle, sensitive manner. She’s not just an insular character, but another with her own autonomy, hopes, and ambition for enlightenment.
The great thing about independent films like these is that the current pandemic leaves a greater opportunity for viewers to find them.
Giant Little Ones should be a roadmap for future coming of age films looking to explore the continuously diversified contemporary upbringing in society today. Teens of all backgrounds now face unprecedented challenges, confusions and pitfalls. Seeing them showcased as beautifully as Behrman is not only exciting, but important for the future representation of often overlooked individuals.