'Giant Little Ones' Review | BFI Flare Festival 2019
As Giant Little Ones begins and the camera focuses on Frankie - our protagonist who sings along to the electro-pop sounding through his headphones - you'd be forgiven for thinking Keith Behrman's latest film would be a queer take on the Hollywood coming of age tropes; boy meets boy, school drama gets in the way, break ups and happy endings, etc. This was initially exciting; though Giant Little Ones is an indie, writer-director Behrman makes a concerted effort to initially ground this film in a more 'mainstream' normality.
Giant Little Ones follows Frankie (Josh Wiggins), a high school athlete whose drunken hook-up with another boy forces him to reconcile his identity head-on. As the film continues, though, Behrman not only subverts the genre's predictable tropes but ensures that one message rings clear - queer narratives can't (and, perhaps, shoudln't) be so easily contained. Fear not, I wont get into spoiler territory here, but it's fair to say that the director's focus on this queer protagonist almost peacocks to the rest of the industry in how engaging (and refreshing) LGBTQ+ stories can be. The traditional teen-film formula feels hollow in comparison.
The film also offers trans representation through the character of Mouse (Niamh Wilson) who helps Frankie in his journey. Even though the character is quite obviously under-served by the script it was a good shout to include them in this story, especially considering the current conservative discourse that surrounds trans existence.
Despite that, I think we need to be careful that this kind of trans depiction doesn’t become the norm. For a long time in film, gay characters were sidelined and written solely to function as a helping hand to the heterosexual protagonist. This cinematic trope gave birth to the 'gay best friend' ideology which still negatively pervades social consciousness today. While a step in the same direction, it would still be a shame to substitute that position with trans characters as gay stories become mainstream. For now, though, this works - Mouse’s sub-plot is not only a thoughtful one but arguably the film’s best.
Some of the elements at play here don’t work, though. While the film and its plot twists were refreshing there were a couple which felt wholly unbelievable. Frankie's relationships with his best friend's family members, for example, feel in-organic and confusing. I won't go into the particulars, but if you have seen this film you'll probably share my confusion and unease with the script.
The film's biggest crime, however, lies in what it doesn't show. Despite presenting multiple scenes of Frankie either kissing or having sex with female characters, the film jarringly refuses to let the audience even see him touch his male 'love-interest'. The pivotal hook-up around which the entire film revolves is hidden from view, leaving the audience literally in the dark about the situation and creating an emotional disconnect between us and Frankie. The entire film revolves around Frankie coming to terms with the impact of an event we weren’t allowed to see, so the hook-up's complete omission from the film becomes an even greater issue. How can we care deeply about something we're blinkered to? How can you ask an audience to feel Frankie's love for another character if we don't see it expressed? One line at the end of the film suggests Frankie “spent a night with someone he loved very much,” but you’d really never know. This is yet another example of a queer film which is seems too bashful to present queer intimacy. 2017's Call Me By Your Name recently came under fire for a similar reason. That film's protagonist is depicted sleeping with women multiple times in that film, but as soon as it came to the queer sex scene the camera panned quickly towards an open window. This isn't an issue of voyeurism, don't get me wrong, it's simply further evidence of queer films' reluctance to present queer love on screen while focusing on scenes of abuse and homophobia without hesitation. Because of this, as Giant Little Ones ends and the film's message of empowerment and defiance starts to sink in, something remains a little hollow. It was only after reading other reviews of the film that I began to work out why. As Megan Christopher from 'Much Ado About Cinema' puts it, this film "puts too much focus on the violence of the oppressor, rather than on the recovery of the oppressed." This summed it up perfectly. While a valid and uplifting message is present, how beneficial is a film that would rather depict it's protagonist being beaten up than being kissed?
Though it may not sound like it, I really did enjoy most of what Giant Little Ones had to offer. The acting was impeccable across the board and this really could be a star turn for Josh Wiggins. The colour grading and cinematography was clearly meticulously thought out, and the combination of the two seem to provide the film with much of its magic. The film also offers a genuine, thoughtful exploration of the struggles that come with navigating sexuality beyond the binary. It just has a glaring Achilles heel.
Put simply, Giant Little Ones is definitely worth your time, especially if you yourself are young and queer. It would just be nice if one day we could depict queer stories that allow our protagonists to cry from laughter as much as they seem to do from pain.
Written by James Green
Originally published at www.jg-review.blogspot.com