Franky is a buff swimmer and from the moment Giant Little Ones kicks off it seems fairly certain, from the way the camera is lingering on his upper body as he wakes up in the morning, that it’s a gay drama we’re watching. Why a camera can’t have a female gaze, I don’t know. Discuss.
Anyhow, Franky is popular with the other guys in the swim team, has a girlfriend “with a fine rack” according to one of his friends, and what’s more she’s very keen to lose her virginity and Franky seems like the guy to do it. All this changes after Franky’s birthday and a late-night, very drunken, stoned fumble with his oldest bestie, Ballas (Darren Mann). Soon the news it out – Franky is a faggot. Girlfriend Priscilla (Hailey Kittle) dumps him, the homophobic swim team shun him, his mother is understanding but bewildered. Only Franky’s dad seems in any way supportive, and that’s the last thing Franky wants, since dad (Kyle MacLachlan) walked out on the family for reasons that are only revealed when we’re already knuckle deep in revelations and consequences.
If all this sounds a bit spoilerish – most plot summaries of the film seem to be coy over the “incident” – it’s all dealt with up front, briskly. It’s what happens next that the film is really about.
Shunted out of the elite hetero world, Franky starts to move around in the shadowy outer reaches, where characters like the extremely dykey Mouse (Niamh Wilson) are experimenting with prosthetic penises, and Ballas’s sister, Natasha (Taylor Hickson) is dealing with the aftermath of a sexual disgrace that’s got her branded as a whore.
Two possible dramatic routes seem to open up here. Either Franky is going to “accept who he really is”, which is vaguely the way his mother (Maria Bello) is nudging him, or he’s going to resist identity-politics tags entirely. Giant Little One’s fascinating wrestle is with the notion of being defined by a sexual act. Is calling yourself gay really an identity, or is it all really a lot more complex (or a lot simpler) than that?
The genius of writer/director Keith Behrman’s drama is to keep both those possibilities up in the air right to the final moments of the film, asking questions rather than pushing characters into boxes. And once Ballas’s sister Natasha has been more firmly roped into the action and she and Franky have started hooking up for mutual support and perhaps a bit more, then Franky’s choice takes human flesh. Franky can accept himself as gay (the Ballas direction), or he can refuse to be defined like that (the Natasha direction). Whichever way he goes, Behrman’s screenplay seems to be insisting, the important thing is for Franky to regain control of his own narrative, assuming he makes a choice.
It’s a lot less schematic than it sounds. This is down to Behrman’s writing, but also the extremely agile acting by all concerned. Josh Wiggins has that all-American big open face, a Matt Damon kind of look, and is entirely believeable as the sporty kid who’d just rather the world butted out of his affairs. Darren Mann as the feisty Ballas works his way through a series of protesting-too-much straight-boy attitudes. Bello is excellent as the concerned mother whose liberal views are being tested, while Kyle MacLachlan gets a totemic role as the angry alienated dad who holds the key to it all. Further back, Taylor Hickson as the wronged Natasha – who might just actually be a slut anyway – she’s subtle as you like, as is Peter Outerbridge as her (and Ballas’s) father, a man who never says “I hope this gayness isn’t contagious” but it’s written all over his face.
Lovely, lovely stuff.
Somehow, amid all the suburban carnage and gnashing of teeth, grinding of sexual gears and different layers of anguish, Giant Little Ones also manages to be funny – Franky’s scenes with Mouse are all light-hearted explorations of sexuality which lightly mock Mouse’s extreme butchness without tilting over into being nasty. Franky, meanwhile, in these exchanges with her, makes a broader point about sexuality and teenage lads – they boast of sexual conquests with their mates but the last thing they want to do is talk about sex seriously. And that’s the straight guys. Why should gay/curious/bisexual/whatever guys be different?
Giant Little Ones is nimble, fast-moving, gives us food for though and manages to both conclude in a satisfying fashion and also leave things a touch tentative. It’s a great drama that somehow manages to dodge all the cliche bullets.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021