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With: Josh Wiggins, Taylor Hickson, Maria Bello, Kyle MacLachlan, Niamh Wilson, Darren Mann, Peter Outerbridge
Written by: Keith Behrman
Directed by: Keith Behrman
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug/alcohol use - all involving teens
Running Time: 93
Date: 03/08/2019

Giant Little Ones (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Orientation Express

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Wise and clear-eyed, this excellent teen drama is far better constructed and more nuanced than the usual coming-out story, eschewing simplistic labels and focusing on the actual state of being human.

In Giant Little Ones, Franky (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (Darren Mann) are lifelong friends, and popular members of their high school swim team. One night after drinking, they share an unexpected moment of sexual attraction. When Franky gets to school the next day, he discovers that Ballas has already spread rumors about Franky being gay. Unable to disprove the rumors, and enduring much hate, he quits the swim team and tries to slog through.

His father, Ray (Kyle MacLachlan), divorced after coming out and moving in with a boyfriend, tries to talk to him about it, but Franky angrily resists. Ballas's sister Natasha (Taylor Hickson), who herself has suffered social ostracizing after a horrifying event at a party, approaches him, and they begin reconnecting and spending time together. This enrages Ballas, who launches a drunken, violent attack on his old pal. But Franky only recovers, stronger, and better able understand his relationships with both Natasha and his father.

Written and directed by Keith Behrman, Giant Little Ones builds a solid base with its characters, each of whom comes complete with complex, conflicting emotions, including the so-called bad guys and — amazingly — the grown-up characters. So many other teen movies lazily paint adults as ridiculous in order to re-direct more sympathy to the younger characters, but there is much to be learned from MacLachlan's superb performance as Ray and Maria Bello as Franky's loving, but somewhat clueless mom.

Even Mann's "Ballas" is understandable, lashing out with rage and fear to his first gay longings. Hickson is also powerfully sympathetic, lucidly explaining her personal tragedy, analyzing it, and comfortably deciding what it is that she needs going forward. Especially lovable is Mouse (Niamh Wilson), who potentially identifies as transgender and gives Franky truthful advice about "owning it."

But Wiggins carries most scenes with his gentle performance as Franky, holding feelings inside, yet at the same time allowing them to be known. Giant Little Ones may not be a full-fledged story about what it means to be gay, but its focus on understanding is perhaps just as important.

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