Wow – “Giant Little Ones” is a powerful film; full of vibrant visually laid out moments that are underscored by an energetic electronic soundtrack. But what makes this film even stronger is the script – and how it masterfully delves into the world of high school adolescent teenagers trying to figure out their sexuality in a modern, sex and party fuelled atmosphere. Writer & Director Keith Berhman weaves all of these elements to create a film that is a “must-see” among modern queer cinema. But be warned, it’s also a difficult film to watch. There is no glitter or gay pride parades, but darkness, uncertainly, and a lot of unanswered questions.
The story focuses on the friendship between Franky (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (Darren Mann), two popular jocks at school and best friends since childhood who spend most of their time together in school and outside. Their playful banter is clear, whether it’s at swim team practice, grabbing slushies at the 7-11, or trying making out with their respective girlfriends down the hall from each other. All is fine and dandy, the typical teenage angst and sexual frustrations that run rampant, with a dash of homophobia and fag jokes, ironically directed not only at others but also at Franky and Ballas. Until the night of Franky’s 17th birthday. In their half-drunken, post-party stupor, both boys end up crashing in the Franky’s bed. Except something happens between the two in the middle of the night, resulting in Ballas getting up and leaving Franky’s room. Suddenly, everything is different.
At school the next day, things are in limbo; they’ve changed but we’re not sure how. Ballas tells Franky that it “never would’ve happened if we weren’t wasted”, downplaying whatever happened. The swim team has a talk from coach about harassment and goes so far as to allow certain teammates to change separately from the others if they don’t feel comfortable. Ballas no longer wants to spend time with Franky, but with his girlfriend Jess instead. The playful banter between the two of them is gone. Like an avalanche, things keep building and building until they erupt when Ballas moves lockers – away from Frankie’s. Add in Franky’s girlfriend turning on him, and with few to little words, it’s clear that Ballas told people what happened. Suddenly, Franky is labeled queer, a fag. The other kids are making sexual jokes at Franky’s expense. Before long, even his teammates are pushing him out, causing Franky to explode and punch one of them in locker room before a few others join in and beat up Franky.
From here, the story gets a bit convoluted as the focus switches to the everyone else involved as they attempt to cope with the outing of Franky – who still vehemently denies being gay, even to his own parents. The relevance of Franky’s dad coming out as gay and leaving his mother for another man, something Franky clearly has trouble dealing with, becomes clearer yet equally puzzling. Ballas’ sister Natasha, who was already labeled an outcast and slut at school, ends up providing comfort to Frankie in these difficult times. They actually end up bonding with each other, throwing another curveball into the puzzle. And there’s Mouse, Franky’s good friend who’s transitioning to male, and who adds an even further depth to the story. Everyone is forced to dig deep and reflect on what has – or hasn’t? – happened. While trying to not give everything away, the ending is rather ambiguous, yet perfect for this film.
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This story is powerful and digs deep to try and explain many things. How homophobia, or even the rumour of one’s different sexuality, can devastate and ruin lives overnight. Where do you draw the line between the friendship, bonding, or something more between two male friends – daring even to ask the question, why do we even need to draw a line. That feeling of isolation, of being alone, which is beautifully captured on screen through the many scenic moments of random quietness and focus on mere random objects. And by telling the story through Franky’s viewpoint, Berhman digs deep and created something that not only draws the viewers into the story but is relatable. As Berhman remarked in an interview, “There’s more openness and more acceptance than when I was a teenager, but a lot of high-school students I spoke to said the film totally nailed it. That was a surprise to me.”
Even the weaving of the other subplots within the script is brilliant. Natasha’s storyline is a great example; a high school girl who is labeled a slut by her peers stemming from an incident at a party where the situation got out of control. Her storyline creates a balance to Franky’s internal dilemma and struggle with his peers, and provides a different insight into how a rumour can shatter someone’s lives. There’s also a separate story of how Franky is struggling with his own homophobia towards his own father (something that a keen viewer might pick up, but provides a unique dramatic irony to the conflict between Franky and Ballas and the underlying question of “is he gay?”)
Again, Behrman excels not only with his script but how he pieced together a film that evokes powerful emotions for the viewer. He uses silence and quietness as tools, giving them equal weight to the dialogue and sometimes filming scenes rather than actors. This juxtaposition is vividly clear in the scene between when Frankie is accosted and beaten up in the locker room while Ballas swims laps; it’s haunting – yet breathtaking. Cinematographically, the film is incredible and full of imagery and well laid out scenes. There are many dark scenes, literally dark with low lighting that make it difficult to see – such as the scene in the bedroom, which was done quite intentionally to keep that ambiguity. But the pops of light and colour stand out in contrast to the darker scenes. Weaving through the film is an electronic, dance-like soundtrack that underlays the film by its subtle yet constant presence.
The last acting was equally superb all around! Josh Wiggins and Darren Mann portray their complex written characters with ease. We quickly believe that they’re best friends, close enough to get into such a situation that ends up creating so much conflict. Their classmates are equally fitting in their roles, filling out stereotypes needed for the story. Franky’s dad, played by Kyle MacLachlan, stands out among the adult characters. A talented actor himself, Kyle successfully portrays a man who has dealt with the struggles of coming out and resolving his sexuality, but still struggles in connection with his son – especially as it appears Franky might also be gay. It takes until nearly the end of the film, but the scene between Kyle and Franky is heartfelt and accepting, a perfect response for anyone who has struggled with their own sexuality.
There’s very little that I did not enjoy about “Giant Little Ones”. Personally, I could’ve done without the subplot of Mouse’s sexual ambiguity/transitioning – but only because I feel that it makes the main storyline more complicated and goes slightly off-topic. I understand why Behrman included the character because it gives another viewpoint amid the LGBTQ umbrella. He is a blend of comic relief in a very heavy plot, but also provides another sexuality option for Franky to consider as he struggles through the entire situation. I just feel that the film would’ve been just as strong without that storyline.
The only other issue I have with the film is with the ending, but that’s because I wanted an answer to the big sexuality question. Instead, the ending is rather ambiguous, but it is perfect for the film. We don’t get a solid answer regarding anyone’s sexuality, Franky and Ballas come to an agreement on where they stand, and there is even the potential for something more. We’re left hanging – but that’s the point. Sometimes there is no black & white answer; sexuality is one case where it is a bit ambiguous. I simply was hoping to get an answer, but I equally love the ending. It’s akin to a love/hate relationship – quite fitting for the film.
While a friend recommended the film, I thoroughly enjoyed watching “Giant Little Ones”. So go grab yourself a copy of this film, buckle down for quite a ride – and enjoy! Then watch it again because, as one of the key points to the plot highlights – things are not always what they seem, and the wrong first impression can be damning.