By Gregg Shapiro
Photo: Euclid 431 Pictures
Gay filmmaker Greg Berlanti revolutionized the high school teen coming out story for good with “Love, Simon”, his 2018 movie adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s Y/A novel. It was both a commercial and critical hit (although overlooked at the Oscars), setting a new standard for everything that would follow.
Among the first out of the post-“Love, Simon” gate is Keith Behrman’s “Giant Little Ones” (Vertical). Popular high school student and swim team member Franky (Josh Wiggins) has been best friends with fellow swimmer Ballas (Darren Mann) since they were kids. They share almost everything. The morning after Ballas and girlfriend Jess (Kiana Madeira) have sex for the first time, Ballas does everything but give Franky the blow-by-blow details. He also encourages Franky to move forward with his girlfriend Cil (Hailey Kittle), who wants to do the deed the night of Franky’s 16th birthday party.
In the hours leading up to the party, we are given a typically unpleasant glimpse into the horrors of high school life. An openly gay swim team member is taunted by a homophobic teammate in the locker room. The word “slut” is scrawled across Ballas’ sister Natasha’s (Taylor Hickson) locker as an example of how she is ostracized for being the victim of a sexual assault. Gossip and rumors abound in classrooms and the halls. Furthermore, plans go awry after Franky’s alcohol and drug-fueled birthday celebration breaks up early when his divorced mom Carly (queer actress Maria Bello) gets home sooner than she had planned. Cil’s mother demands that she come home (she considers Franky a bad influence) and a slightly wasted Franky and Ballas end up hanging out together.
After surviving a confrontation in a convenience store parking lot, Franky and Ballas end up back at Franky’s where they crash in his bed. While there, they have an unexpected sexual encounter that completely freaks out Ballas; even though it was Ballas who initiated it. What follows is Ballas’ attempt to distance himself from Franky, which includes his blackballing his one-time best friend, thereby removing any suspicions about his sexuality.
Shunned by everyone except lesbian classmate Mouse (Niamh Wilson) and Natasha, Franky is shaken by the experience. Franky’s father Ray (Kyle McLachlan), who left Carly when he came out as gay and lives with his male partner, tries to be of help, but Franky doesn’t want anything to do with him. As things escalate, and Franky’s ongoing relationship with Natasha becomes a source of anger for Ballas, the two former best friends have a frightening physical confrontation.
Without giving away too much, suffice to say that a form of accord is reached. Along the way, Franky also finds a way to come to terms and make peace with Ray. “Giant Little Ones” lacks the energy of “Love, Simon”, and the emotional impact is more muted. Nevertheless, “Giant Little Ones” is a welcome addition to the genre.
Rating: 3 peaches – A ripe peach