Thursday, April 23, 2015

“Little Boy”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama “Little Boy”, with Emily Watson, Kevin James and Tom Wilkinson.


When a boy’s father goes to fight in World War II, he tries to will an immediate end to the war so his father will return – but will he be disappointed if his efforts fail?


In the mid-1940’s, eight-year-old Pepper Busbee (Jakob Salvati) is doing his best to grow up in his small California town while World War II rages on overseas – the only problem is, his body isn’t complying.  Pepper is smaller than most of the kids around his age and as a result, he’s mercilessly teased and bullied.  Among the names he’s called, Little Boy is arguably the least objectionable.  Since Pepper doesn’t have many friends, he manages to form an unusual bond with his father James (Michael Rapaport) who winds up being more like his buddy than his parent. 

London (David Henrie), Pepper’s older brother, has reached draft age and is eager to do his duty during wartime – unfortunately, his flat feet cause him to be classified as 4F and he must remain at home with his family.  With London disqualified for service, James winds up joining the army and is sent to The Philippines.  Shamed by his rejection, London soon drowns his sorrows in alcohol as he tries to continue his father’s business as a car mechanic while his mother Emma (Watson) takes care of the family.  Emma, meanwhile, must fight off the romantic advances of the family physician, Dr. Fox (James).

Everyone’s worst fears are realized when the military notifies Emma that James is Missing In Action; they can’t be sure if he’s dead because they haven’t found a body, so it’s possible he may be in a Japanese Prisoner Of War camp.  Missing his father, Pepper is advised by the local priest (Wilkinson) that if he performs a series of good deeds, God might see fit to return James to the family.  With the help of Mr. Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) – a local Japanese-American who suffers the bigotry that arose from the war – Pepper is able to easily strike items off the list.  But with the end of the war imminent and no word about his father, will Pepper find that his faith has been misplaced or will his prayers be answered?


With a title as uninspired as “Little Boy”, the filmmakers are certainly setting an audience’s expectations at a fairly low level – and they do not disappoint.  “Little Boy” is unapologetically manipulative and cloying in its attempts to justify Christian-based faith as the one true way in a bit of propaganda that could’ve just as easily been used during the era in which this movie was set.   What remains something of a quandary is how this screenplay managed to attract the recognizable names that it did; this arouses the suspicion that this might have been done as a way of repaying a favor to some of the producers. 

“Little Boy” is so utterly repugnant, it’s hard to believe it’s getting a release in theaters; this would’ve seemed certain to be destined as one of those straight-to-video movies.  Marketers might feel that this could be one of those family-friendly films that might find enough of an audience in the heartland that it will develop a cult following throughout the Bible Belt.  There is so much off the mark in its attempts to be profound and earnest as it tries to repudiate the same prejudices it inadvertently espouses in its own awkward way.  Shaking your head and pondering what they were thinking is ultimately the only response to this motion picture.

Unabashed as the filmmakers are in their attempts to get the audience to both like and help promote the movie, there was a short that was shown prior to the screening; it featured the film’s producers explaining to the audience why it should like “Little Boy” and that it was everyone’s duty to spread the word about how this motion picture is just so utterly wonderful.  As if this effort alone wasn’t sufficiently off-putting, they had to ensure they were starting on the wrong foot with the audience by sealing their fate with such obnoxious and desperate begging and pleading.   


Little Boy (2015) on IMDb

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