Sensitive performances, mature and self-assured direction, and understated writing make Keith Behrman’s Giant Little Ones an emotionally involving, above-average coming-of-age story with a profound impact and mercifully few clichés. The exemplary young actor Josh Wiggins, so memorable in the underrated wilderness-survival saga Walking Out, more than lives up to his potential as a popular, conflicted teenager in the painful process of sexual discovery. Aside from an awkward, confusing and pointless title that spells box-office trouble, Giant Little Ones is a very fine, immaculate and nuanced film indeed.
Wiggins gently but firmly nails every aspect of youth as attractive, clean-cut Canadian high schooler Franky Winter. Franky seems to have it all. He and his best friend Ballas (Darren Mann) are campus heroes and ace swimmers on the championship swim team, with good grades and beautiful girlfriends—although Franky is not only less aggressive with girls than his pal, but also still a virgin. Franky has reasons for doubt. His hip, funny and compassionate mom (another solid performance by Maria Bello, who also serves as one of the film’s producers) has experienced her own struggles ever since Franky’s dad (Kyle MacLachlan) left her for a man.
GIANT LITTLE ONES ★★★
Angry and ashamed, Franky has never forgiven his father and lives in fear his friends will sense his insecurity. Everything changes on his 17th birthday when, after too much pot and beer, Ballas sleeps over and the two buddies share an incident under the sheets that changes their lives forever. One innocent experiment with a drunken soul mate and the word spreads that Franky is gay.
Everyone is affected. Bullied, ostracized and publicly humiliated, Franky turns for friendship and support to Ballas’ sister Natasha (Taylor Hickson), who harbors a secret of her own the movie never explains: Why does she have a reputation as the school slut? He also confides in another bizarre schoolmate (Niamh Wilson) and engages in intimate, ambiguous discussions about sex he doesn’t have at home.
One of the film’s annoyances is its withdrawal of vital information at important moments. Every character reveals only what the audience needs to know, and nothing more. Still, every player in the puzzle seeks answers in unique and different ways. Ballas wonders if his alpha-male persona is a cover-up for his own sexual identity crisis. Franky’s parents deal with the issues they’ve avoided in their own lives. Turning to his dad, a man he wrongly blames for everything that has ruptured in his family, turns out to be the most healing decision of Franky’s own life.
The actors are flawless, but it is Wiggins who forms a magnetic centerpiece as a boy alone on a battlefield of naked emotional vulnerability, forced to be an adult before his time. He has a big range, and the film suits him like a tight T-shirt. The point of Giant Little Ones—that love is love no matter where or how you find it, and you can count yourself lucky if you do—is a big theme indeed, and young Wiggins serves it admirably.