The Screening Room | Powerful 'Giant Little Ones' a movie for our time

The Screening Room | Powerful 'Giant Little Ones' a movie for our time

I don't know for sure, but I have a feeling that "Giant Little Ones" comes from a very personal place in writer-director Keith Behrman.

The film has a sincerity about it and plays out like a catharsis of sorts. While it never makes the mistake of assuming the guise of self-analysis, it does err in succumbing to the notion of wishful thinking. This honest look at modern teens also ends much too neatly, lending an air of insincerity to what is, up until the conclusion, an insightful film centering on sexual and gender identity and the ramifications of being uncertain in a harsh, judgmental world.

The movie gets off to a slow start and initially seems to be heading down the road of a traditional teen comedy. Best friends Franky and Ballas (Josh Wiggins and Darren Mann, respectively) have known each other most of their lives, are on the swim team, are reasonably popular, have girlfriends and do the things smart, restless teenage boys do.

However, one night after a party, something happens between them that permanently alters their relationship, an incident that spawns rumors that leads to them both questioning their sexuality.

What occurs afterward initially plays out as you would expect but then takes a sharp turn toward, for the most part, an authentic look and discussion of sexual fluidity and self-acceptance. Franky's divorced mother, Carly (Maria Bello), is able to balance having an independent second act while being a responsible parent, while his dad, Ray (Kyle MacLachlan), has entered into a homosexual relationship that he's very open and willing to talk about with his son.

While the inclusion of a gay father seems narratively convenient, the moments between father and son are the key to the movie, as the young man overcomes his anger toward the parent he feels has abandoned him and in doing so takes steps toward understanding himself.

Finding himself ostracized from his peers, Franky gravitates toward Ballas' sister Natasha (Taylor Hickson), herself a victim of rumors of a sexual nature. Her feelings of alienation have done great damage and left her a fragile, broken girl who's eager to reclaim herself but unsure of how to do so. Again, it may seem as if Behrman is making it easy on himself by having these two characters in such close proximity, yet it doesn't feel that way — perhaps regrettably, because incidents that they speak of are seemingly becoming more commonplace.

A great deal of the success of the film and our not quibbling over these narrative conventions is due to the exceptional cast Behrman has assembled. Bello and MacLachlan deliver the solid sort of work they've become known for, yet it's the younger members of the cast that truly impress. Wiggins, Mann and Hickson are exceptional in bringing a degree of sincerity to their roles that makes their characters not simply believable but vital. They do not come off as spokespeople for their generation but as common kids struggling with their own personal issues, ignorant that what they're experiencing is not uncommon. As such, they are relatable, and the bond the viewer forms with them happens effortlessly.

Behrman does err with a lesbian character that's an obvious stereotype, and the ending simply doesn't feel right — a conclusion with the obvious purpose of having everyone leave the theater with a smile on their faces. Nevertheless, this film's core message is an essential, timely one that any teen struggling with doubts and confusion of any sort should see. More than anything, Behrman's movie reminds us that no one is truly alone where their troubles are concerned.

'Giant Little Ones' (★★★1/2 out of four)

Cast: Josh Wiggins, Darren Mann, Taylor Hickson, Maria Bello, Kyle MacLachlan, Evan Marsh and Peter Outerbridge.

Directed and written by Keith Behrman; produced by Allison Black.

A Vertical Entertainment release. 93 minutes. Rated R (sexual content, language, some teen drug/alcohol use). At the Art Theater.

Also new in theaters

Marshall's "Hellboy" for true fans only (★★★1/2 out of four). I don't know how to say this without it sounding condescending, but if you don't read Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" comic books, then you simply won't get Neil Marshall's new version of the demonic superhero's adventures.

While you have to admire the filmmaker's adherence to the source material (with Mignola as one of the producers, he may have little leeway), this approach runs the risk of alienating the uninitiated. With an opening box-office take of $12 million and a 15 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it would appear that this is exactly what's happened, with those going in blind coming out dazed, confused and perhaps a bit angry.

A brief primer on the half-demon paranormal investigator is probably in order: In the waning days of World War II, a desperate Adolf Hitler acts upon his notion that supernatural forces may be called upon to help his cause, dispatching specialists in the occult — among them a resurrected Rasputin (don't ask; it's a looong story) — to England to perform a rite that will give rise to a demon they hope will assist them in resurrecting the Third Reich. Fortunately, U.S. forces ambush them and take control of what's been brought forth — an infant demon that Professor Trevor Bruttenholm takes under his wing. Naming him "Hellboy," he raises and nurtures him, training him to be a paranormal investigator combating supernatural enemies. While this is all well and good, the erstwhile hero wrestles with his destiny, as it's been prophesized that his actions will bring about the end of the world.

This was covered in Guillermo del Toro's 2004 original and is briefly and efficiently retold here as well. Afterward, the titular character sets out to combat Nimue (Milla Javovich), a resurrected witch bent on remaking the world so that monsters can run riot, but not before he combats three giants and finds out he's a descendant of King Arthur. Oh, and there's a talking man-sized boar intent on being turned back to human form. It's that kind of movie.

Marshall keeps things turned up to 11 throughout, covering a great deal of story (three different "Hellboy" stories are adapted here) at a breakneck pace, bombarding the audience with one elaborate visual after another (the production values are top-notch), and drenching them with the sort of graphic violence that's so extreme it can only be seen as comical.

The relationship between Bruttenholm (Ian McShane) and Hellboy (David Harbour of "Stranger Things") is the linchpin that holds it all together, as their affectionate bickering gives the film some genuine laughs and a bit of heart. McShane could be compelling while reading a phone book, and his sense of gravity, coupled with his tongue planted firmly in cheek, sets and helps maintain the sardonic tone necessary to make this work. Harbour, while lacking the physical presence of previous Hellboy Ron Perlman, has a better handle on the character's comic side, which helps keep things light as supernatural mayhem swirls about him.

It goes without saying that this will not be everybody's cup of tea, while the glut of superhero films will likely prevent viewers from taking a chance on a niche character like Big Red. Yet Marshall must be commended for making a "Hellboy" not for the masses but for the devoted fan base — a move that will surely please them but make it highly unlikely that the character will appear on the big screen again anytime soon.

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