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Knight at the Movies: Little Men; The Intervention
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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Boys will be boys

Two years after making the best film of his career—Love Is Strange, the lovely bittersweet story of John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as an elderly gay couple facing financial and personal trauma after marrying in New York City—Ira Sachs is back with Little Men. The openly gay Sachs, once again scripting with his writing partner Mauricio Zacharias, has crafted another emotionally complicated slice-of-life drama, this one set in Brooklyn.

One of the most compelling characters in Love Is Strange was that of Joey, Lithgow's teenage nephew whose coming-of-age subplot was beautifully observed ( and acted by Charlie Tahan ). The new film focuses on another young boy, Jake ( Leo Taplitz ), the 13-year-old son of Brian ( Greg Kinnear ) and Kathy Jardine ( Jennifer Ehle ). The Jardines have just moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan, taking over the apartment they inherited from Brian's late father. The apartment is upstairs from a dress shop run by Lenor ( Paulina Garcia ), who has a tough-talking but sweet-natured son named Tony ( Michael Barbieri ).

Tony is outgoing and friendly while Jake is quiet and artistic—subjected to gay taunts at school—and an improbable but close bond swiftly develops between the boys. It's not clear if either boy has discovered his sexual nature, although it's no stretch to imagine that one or both of them might be gay. But nevertheless, the friendship of the boys is a thing of beauty—an awkward time of life rarely examined in the movies.

But the strong bond between the boys is the opposite of the story with the parents. Lenor's dress shop has lost money for years, and Brian and Kathy need the income in order to keep the building. They want a better-paying tenant while Lenor feels that Brian's father promised her no rent increases. A subtle power struggle develops and alarmingly escalates in spite of pleas from the boys that the adults make nice. They want that, too—realizing how important the friendship is—but the circumstances don't suggest a happy ending for all. Regardless of the outcome, Sachs draws his usual amazing performances from his actors, helped by the delicately observed script.

Sachs' sense of the city—its vibrancy and quirky personality—has become central to his movies and it's just as key here. Filled with beautiful performances ( Kinnear, who has often been underrated, is again marvelous ), this delicate film is a perfect antidote to the standard big-budget, superhero blockbusters and gross-out comedies that are the typical summer fare. Little Men is a little miracle of a movie—quietly rewarding and deeply satisfying.

Big Chill redux

Out actor Clea DuVall—familiar to queer film fans for her sullen, snarky teenage lesbian in But I'm a Cheerleader!, Argo, Girl Interrupted, American Horror Story: Asylum and others—has now written and directed her first film, The Intervention.

It's a Big Chill-like ensemble dramedy of a group of coupled friends who have gathered many times over weekends in the past, kvetching, catching up and letting their hair down. This time around, though, they've got an agenda: The marriage of Ruby and Peter has become so toxic that the others have set up the gathering in order to advise the bickering Bickersons to get a divorce. No one else—including a lesbian couple—has relationships worth bragging about, so it's anyone's guess how the idea of splitting the argumentative couple will take.

DuVall's movie premiered at Sundance to love-letter reviews and has been a favorite on this year's queer film-festival circuit while garnering mostly positive reviews. The cast includes Jason Ritter, Natasha Lyonne ( who played Duvall's eventual love interest in But I'm a Cheerleader! ), Cobie Smulders, Melanie Lynskey and several of their contemporaries. It's available on VOD now.

Upcoming movie calendar

Highlights from films ( alphabetized by date ) opening in Chicago, Sept. 2 and 9 ( some descriptions come from studio press materials ).

The Intervention ( 8/26 )—See details above.

The Hollers ( 9/2 )—A man ( John Krasinski ) returns home to his dysfunctional family after learning his mother ( Margo Martindale ) has a brain tumor. Krasinski's directorial debut. Anna Kendrick, Sharlto Copley and Richard Jenkins co-star.

The Light Between Oceans ( 9/2 )—A couple ( Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander ) who reside in an Australian lighthouse discover a baby in a boat along with a dead body. They decide to raise the child—a choice that leads to devastating consequences.

Little Men ( 9/2 )—See details above.

Morgan ( 9/2 )—A corporate troubleshooter ( Kate Mara ) travels to a remote, top-secret location to investigate a bioengineered child ( Anya Taylor-Joy ) who starts to become dangerous.

Akron ( 9/9 )—First love meets the challenge of forgiveness in this family drama that continues to scoop festival prizes around the nation, including Best Feature and the Audience Award at the ImageOut Film Festival. College freshmen Benny ( Frias ) and Christopher ( Donovan ) meet on the football field and fall hard for each other, with the enthusiastic support of their respective families. In a welcome twist, Akron's drama is not rooted in the fact that these young men are gay, but in the fateful coincidence of a tragedy whose history has lain dormant for more than a decade but will soon come to light. Akron plays exclusively at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Complete Unknown ( 9/9 )—While hosting a birthday party with his wife, a man ( Michael Shannon ) is startled to recognize a woman ( Rachel Weisz ) from his past. Going by a new name, she initially denies knowing him, but she later complicates the couple's life.

Sully ( 9/9 )—After landing a plane in New York's Hudson River, Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger ( Tom Hanks ) faces an investigation that threatens to destroy his career and reputation. Clint Eastwood directs this true story.

When the Bough Breaks ( 9/9 )—When a professional couple ( Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall ) who are unable to conceive hire a young woman ( Theo Rossi ) as a surrogate, she develops a psychotic fixation on the husband that turns violent.

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