Teen angst

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday March 5, 2019
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Darren Mann as Ballas in director Keith Behrman's "Giant Little Ones." Photo: Courtesy the filmmaker
Darren Mann as Ballas in director Keith Behrman's "Giant Little Ones." Photo: Courtesy the filmmaker

In "Giant Little Ones," high schoolers Franky and Ballas, best friends for life, have an unexpected late-night sexual encounter after a night of raucous partying and heavy drinking. Neither is comfortable with what happened. Their friendship is destroyed, and they turn on each other.

Ballas initiated their "experimentation." Even so, Franky takes the "blame" as Ballas and his girlfriend begin spreading rumors that Franky is gay. Those rumors are reinforced when Franky defends a fellow classmate who's being bullied.

"Giant Little Ones" is the opposite of last year's upbeat "Love Simon." In that film gay and straight high school students accept each other's sexuality cheerfully, without question. In this new film, sex and gender roles are defined by a strict rulebook, and God help anyone who doesn't play by the rules.

Josh Wiggins, as Franky, and Darren Mann, as Ballas, are both attractive boys who offer strong performances as two confused young men who realize they might not be who they thought they were. Franky is the more likable of the two. As Ballas descends into vindictiveness, Franky does some serious soul-searching and tries to understand what happened.

Two people in Franky's life help him come to terms with himself. One is his friend Mouse (Niamh Wilson), a butch lesbian beginning to show signs of being transgender (Mouse's sexual and gender identity are never clearly defined). The other is Franky's gay dad Ray (a touching Kyle MacLachlan). Ray has been living with his partner for several years, and Franky had been refusing all invitations to visit Ray's home. One day, after a violent altercation with Ballas, Franky shows up at his dad's door. Ray is delighted to see his son. He shares the story of how he met his partner and admits he still loves Franky's mom. "It's just different now," he says.

"That thing that happened between me and Ballas, it felt normal at the time," says Franky. "It was only after that we got scared."

Ray offers Franky some sage advice. "I suggest you pay attention to who you're drawn to, and not worry about what to call it at this point."

Those words sum up the message of "Giant Little Ones." The film is about being who you are, and learning to accept it, whether you're gay, straight, or somewhere in-between. That the film takes this path rather than become a sweet romance between the two boys is refreshing. Audiences will have much to think about. Opens Friday at AMC Kabuki in SF; Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.