Tag: josh wiggins

Giant Little Ones

Giant Little Ones (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Keith Behrman’s “Giant Littles Ones” is not a reductive LGBTQ picture in which the main character simply learns to come to terms with his sexuality by the end of the story. While it does end on a hopeful note, the messages it imparts—about teenage sexuality, friendships, romantic feelings, and even one’s relationship with parents—are far more nuanced than mainstream films that just so happen to have queer elements in them. It is effective precisely because the characters we meet are specific, layered, and flawed. And, like real people, they do not always express what they feel or think even when situations demand that they do.

The main conflict sprouts from two best friends, Franky and Ballas (Josh Wiggins, Darren Mann), who engage in a sexual activity. The latter feels so guilty about it afterwards that he chooses to tell his girlfriend (Kiana Madeira) a lie that inevitably goes around school. The former, on the other hand, does not consider what occurred to be embarrassing or something to feel ashamed about. For the majority of the picture we observe Franky and Ballas’ friendship crumble at first in small ways then in significant ways just as suddenly. Great tension builds as the two formerly inseparable teenagers, both clearly hurt by the snowballing turn of events, learn to find and forge their own paths.

There are times when the screenplay is so sharp that we become convinced that the friendship is possibly forever broken. Yes, we see intense homophobia, ugly words, and violence, but there is a constant message that sometimes a friendship must die in order to give rise to new, healthier ones. Some are played for laughs, like Franky’s connection with Mouse (Niamh Wilson), a classmate who tends to dress in what is considered to be masculine clothes—in addition to wearing a strap-on or tube socks beneath her jeans in order to create the illusion that she has a penis. Not once is she labeled as transgender. It is refreshing; it fits the theme surrounding the teenagers attempting to find themselves.

Others are shown under the light of great sadness. I was particularly moved by Natasha (Taylor Hickson), Ballas’ younger sister, who has a reputation at school for being promiscuous. Derogatory names are written on her locker. Ballas, although a popular athlete respected by his peers, never comes to her aid or to provide emotional support—not even at home. We see her drink alcohol as if it were water; there is a detached look in her eyes. Her parents, although they mean well, seem to be unaware of how incredibly sad and lonely she is. But Natasha is not at all incapable recognizing when somebody needs someone to talk to, to lend a helping hand. Her conversations with Franky are standouts because the words and feelings they share sound and feel real. There are instances when silence communicates more than enough.

The most compelling performance on screen is delivered by Kyle MacLachlan, Franky’s gay father who lives with man. We are reminded more than once that Ray is an observer who has more than a handful of things to say—he wants to protect his son so desperately—but must restrain because his relationship with his family is precarious. For one, his former wife (Maria Bello) still feels betrayed for having married a woman who turns out to be attracted to other men. (Notice it is rare for the two to make eye contact.) Secondly, Franky, too, disapproves that his father is gay. Or perhaps not. Maybe it is because he feels abandoned due to Ray choosing live with someone else and lead a non-traditional lifestyle. Or that maybe he feels such a close connection to his mother that he, too, feels her feelings of betrayal. Or maybe it is all of these things. Therein lies the strength of this film: it is complicated, messy, painful, and real.

The writer-director makes the correct decision to leave the story on a satisfying note without succumbing to the pressure of solving every conflict in a way that is neat or proper. It is not a straightforward coming out story like “Love, Simon” but the two would make a strong double feature because they are so different—in look, mood, feeling, the characters we come across—that they beg to be compared side-by-side.

More discerning viewers, however, would recognize that, in a way, they complement one another. Both contain beautiful details. In this film, for instance, a genuine moment of connection occurs between father and son in a walk-in closet—the father just outside of it and the son standing inside wearing blazer—a gift from Ray—that might as well be a suit of armor.

Walking Out

Walking Out (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Alex Smith and Andrew J. Smith’s “Walking Out” unfolds like a beautiful adventure novel, so willing to detail the interior lives of its characters while showing what happens to the father and son, Cal (Matt Bomer) and David (Josh Wiggins), while out in the wilderness during a hunting trip. It is a survival story, certainly, but it works as a drama first and foremost. It makes for a compelling watch, made for lovers of nature and intimate portraits of relationships in which the plot serves to explore the surprising bonds between family and their arresting but unforgiving environment.

Flashbacks are too often misused as a tool to plug in the missing pieces of the screenplay. It is a rare occasion when it is utilized effectively, as it is here, because the memories we come to see serve to enhance an already rich material. Because the filmmakers do not use flashbacks as a crutch, the viewers look forward to the retrospectives since these either highlight a theme or reveal surprising information about why, for example, Cal insists on teaching David how to hunt even though his son is apparently not into it initially.

These flashbacks involve young Cal (Alex Neustaedter), who was around David’s age, and his hunting expeditions with his father (Bill Pullman). The images are majestic, especially when the camera gets as close to an animal as possible, but at the same time the film is unafraid to show that being out in the mountains is often cold, dirty, frustrating, and requires a colossal amount of patience. There is a wise but amusing line regarding the key difference between hunting and shopping.

Bomer and Wiggins share solid chemistry even though there are times when it feels as though we are watching two brothers rather than a father and his son. While it is not necessary to make Bomer look older, it might have helped if the performer had adapted a body language that is a bit more worn or experienced. Or perhaps a certain way of walking. At the same time, however, perhaps the father’s youth is the point, one of the reasons why he connects deeply with his son during moments when he isn’t a teacher or guide.

Meanwhile, Wiggins fits the role as a teenager so used to constantly holding technology in his hands that he forgets his visit to his father in the remote wilderness of Montana is one to be cherished, not just for the views but also when it comes to time to be shared. (We assume his parents are divorced and David only sees his father perhaps once or twice a year.) His growth throughout the picture is thoroughly convincing; it is the correct decision that the final shot be of David looking at a distance.

“Walking Out” is based on a short story by David Quammen. It is efficient but filled with details and so we are entertained by the drama that unfolds. Particularly impressive is the second half in which the dialogue becomes uncommon and the slow pacing dominates. It is meant to capture a particular experience so we are left listening to shuffling feet as it struggles against inches of snow, the call of wild animals, and the muffled sloshing of a river underneath inches of ice.