Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Movie Review #256: "Little Boy" (2015)

Movie"Little Boy"
Ticket Price: $7.00
Director: Alejandro Monteverde
Rating: PG-13
Running Time 1 hour, 46 minutes
Image Source
Pepper "Little Boy" Busbee (Jakob Salvati) is best friends with his father James (Michael Rapaport) since he is the constant object of ridicule by those his own age due to his diminutive size. When his father must go to fight in WWII and is taken prisoner by the Japanese, Pepper will do anything to bring his father home, even if it means believing in the impossible.  

On the surface, the home town where "Little Boy" takes place seems like the ideal version of classic America, like it was taken straight off the canvas of a Norman Rockwell painting and slapped right onto the screen. It turns out this ideal classic America isn't so ideal. In reality, it is a small town full of bullies, nosy neighbors, lookie-loos and bigots. This is often how America was in the 1940's, especially towards people of Japanese descent. Pepper is played by the adorable, doe-eyed Jakob Salvati and is picked on by kids at school because he is so small. His father James, played well by Michael Rapaport with what limited screen time he has, becomes his best friend and closest partner in life, a bond which is seen and felt by the audience from the second Pepper is born. James has bought Pepper Ben Eagle comics about a magician superhero since he was little and has instilled a strong sense of self-belief in him, letting him know he can do anything as long as he believes it enough. This is reinforced when Ben Eagle, played by Ben Chaplin, does a live magic show in their small town and convinces Little Boy that he moved a bottle using only his mind by simply believing he could do it. This strength of belief is reinforced again at church when the priest delivers a sermon on faith. The power of belief is the primary theme in this movie and it shows that power of belief from many angles. One way it is shown is through a belief in god, which is the perspective given by Father Oliver, played by Tom Wilkinson. The other perspective is the belief in one's self and your own personal ability to make changes, a perspective given by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa's character Hashimoto, who is an atheist, but remains very good friends with Father Oliver. These two angles are displayed equally throughout the film, never really stepping on any toes or shoving any ideals down any throats in an effort to show how the belief in god and the belief in self can coexist peacefully, without any problems, and without any wars.

Now, since this movie takes place in the thick of WWII in a city with a tendency for racial discrimination, there are some moments with racial epithets and slurs which can be extremely offensive. However, by far the most offensive point of the movie is the main protagonist sharing a name with one of the nuclear bombs that was dropped on Japan, annihilating a city in its wake. It is no coincidence and this is related to a pretty strong plot point, a point that is a little cringe-worthy when it happens. BigJ and I even physically made faces at the screen when the movie "went there," though the follow-up scene does offer some redemption for the situation, putting the devastation front and center in Pepper's nightmare as he comes to understand what his belief in himself and his want to bring his dad home may have caused. Due to its central theme of belief, "Little Boy" has certainly been labeled by many as a "faith-based film," but we don't totally agree with that assessment and we might even go as far as saying it has been wrongfully and inaccurately labeled. Just because a film has some religious elements doesn't make it "faith-based," and it has been undeservedly lumped in with films like "Left Behind" and "God's Not Dead." If you have been following this blog for some time, you will know that BigJ and I are atheists, and if we don't think something is faith-based, well, it's probably not. Hell, even one of the biggest character in "Pulp Fiction" has a religious element to him, but would you call that a faith-based film? No way, Jose. "Little Boy" is far more ambiguous in its perspective and a lot of what is interpreted on screen is left up to the audience members themselves. Much like the characters in the film, where some see a miracle, others will see merely a coincidence. That being said, the movie is dripping with sap from every orifice, which is its biggest offender. Though I did find myself on the giving end of a small waterfall of tears at one point, most people will simply see a saccharine-infested slog, and where some really bold steps could have been taken in the story, the writers decided to softball it. We might be giving this movie more credit than we should and might be naive about its intentions, but it certainly isn't as bad as other critics are claiming it to be. Flawless, this is not, but manipulatively offensive? It's not that, either. It's somewhere in between, and though it won't win any awards or receive critical acclaim, it's certainly a trillion times better than "Left Behind."

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 17%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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