Life, as you’ve likely noticed by now, is not a straightforward undertaking.
While many people of a religious or even secular persuasion may choose to argue otherwise, clinging to their black-and-white dogma like its is truth incarnate, the reality is what we think will happen or who we think we’ll be and love are movable feasts that pay no heed to assumption or belief.
Giant Little Ones, a slow-burn, nuanced piece of superlative indie storytelling from Canada, directed by Keith Behrman, knows this only too well, dwelling as it is does in that place where life most often chooses to inhabit – the messy, ill-defined in-between.
Franky (Josh Wiggins) is a 16-17-year-old teenage boy who discovers just how messily unpredictable and uncertain life can be when first his parents divorce after his dad falls in love with Brendan, a male work contact – the marriage is over at the start of the film with only the still-embittered remnants swirling about – and then his best friend Ballas (Darren Mann) and he have a falling out when a drunken act one night reveals that Ballas may not be quite the hetero stud he has been portraying himself as.
Prior to this event, which sends Ballas into a panicked, ill-thought out tailspin which seems him trashing his once-close friend Franky’s reputation to save his own, the two guys are the very best of friends, something the film, in, admirably, no hurry to rush its beautifully-insightful story, takes great care to set up.
We see the two in each other’s orbits constantly, laughing, joking, affectionately-taunting, rough-housing and celebrating Franky’s birthday with hijinks, flare guns and way more alcohol than Franky’s reasonably-chilled mum Carly (Maria Bello) agreed to.
It’s all very normal, all neatly settled with boundaries so well-established and comfortable that Franky, who refuses to have anything to do with his dad Ray played by Kyle MacLachlan (in contrast to his sister Deanne, played by Olivia Scriven who’s adapted more readily), is sent reeling when overnight, quite literally in fact, Ballas cuts him loose.
While the events that follow are traumatic, and the film doesn’t seek to downplay them, they are allowed to unfold in what almost feels like real time with Franky watching as first his sexuality is questioned, his position on the swim team is made untenable and his girlfriend, Priscilla (Hailey Kittle) dumps him without so much as seeking any kind of explanation.
Wiggins invests Franky’s reaction with the kind of shocked understatement you would expect of someone who has watched his entire world implode, again, not once erring towards the kind of violently-angry melodrama that other less-sophisticatedly-told films would possibly resort to.
Only once does he physically lash out, with much of his pain and disbelief centred on long, non-verbally-accented looks between he and Ballas, Priscilla and the host of other people caught up in the maelstrom.
The reason Giant Little Ones succeeds so well is because of this willingness to show, not tell, allowing the events to play out in a way which is powerfully, emotionally-affecting but which feel palpably real at the same time.
So grindingly real does it all feel, in fact, that on more than occasion you ache for Franky who struggles as any of us would at that age (and honestly even as adults if we’re being fair) to make sense of it all, let alone respond in any sort of meaningful fashion to it all.
That he does so in the final act is largely due to one climactic confrontation between he and Ballas, which takes things into a far more public sphere, and the close relationship he rekindles, ironically, with Ballas’s younger sister Natasha (Taylor Hickson), which helps him heal from many of the more egregious social and physical wounds Ballas inflects through his self-preservational cruelty.
Helping things too is Franky’s hilariously-honest friend Mouse, who takes to wearing a dildo in her pants for reasons unknown but which might portend her transgender male status; whatever the reason, she provides some comic levity in a film that while not crushingly-intense, is not exactly a walk in the emotional park either.
Giant Little Ones, which sports the kind of cutting-edge, compelling soundtrack from which grand cinematically-aural dreams are made and which syncs perfectly with every scene in which it’s featured, is anchored by a great deal of humanity and heart.
For all the very worst of humanity on display, we see a great deal of what is best about us, our ability to relate to and support and each other and make the most detestable of times just that little bit better.
Refreshingly none of the relationships are perfect but they are real, testament to the fact that while we don’t always get everything right about life, if we remember to be there for someone we love when they need us most, half the battle is won.
Having said, the film is peppered with relationships where that hasn’t happened, has been derailed and is yet to be repaired (see Franky and his dad) or begins anew with emotional luggage that needs to be sorted and dealt with (see Franky and Natasha, and deals with each other carefully and with rare empathy and insight, such as a manual about how we should and could relate to people, Giant Little Ones is almost textbook-perfect.
It is also accepting of the fact, in a way that is not shouty or polemic but grounded and integrated with the real business of living life, that very little in life is cut and dried, or easily determined.
This is applied to all kinds of issues in the film, most notably sexuality as you might expect, and it speaks to how masterfully Giant Little Ones manages to spruik its message without once even remotely feel like it is doing so, with its storytelling primacy given over, as with any well-executed drama, with simply telling a story of fallible people trying to make their way through a difficult period in their lives where nothing is resolved and yet everything is, and life continues with more questions, and hopefully, answers waiting in the wings.