Little Boy movie full length review - I'm not a fan of tear jerking, corny movies, but this one caught my attention from the first minute.
"Are you saying I should stop? I would say do what makes sense for you."
"Little Boy" is about a strong father-son relation, faith, hope, love and trust. And all this with the help of a mustard seed and an illustrious magician out of a comic strip. Oops, faith and a parable about a mustard seed. You immediately expect it to be a slightly religious movie with the Christian theme about faith as a central topic. Ultimately, this isn't entirely the case. At some point it even appeared as if the savvy Pepper (Jakob Salvati) succeeded in surprising the officiating priest with his astounding, logical and unrestrained questions. "Why wouldn't God want to bring my dad back ?", he asks innocently. The underlying message in this beautiful and moving film is indeed imbued with a message from the holy book, but ultimately it isn't really that preachy. Let's just say that if you believe in something, you can reach your goal. You could even move mountains. "Do you believe we can do this? Yes, I believe we can do this ".
Pepper Busbee is a roguishly looking kid who's very small for his age (but not a "midget"). That's why he's being bullied by the bigger boys who live in the fictional coastal town O'Hare. A town you also can admire on postcards, as pointed out by the voice-over of Pepper personally at the beginning. Pepper's best friend and partner is his father James Busbee (Michael Rapaport) who shares Pepper's enthusiasm for comics and cinema films. Until the day comes when James has to go to the front, because the eldest son London (David Henrie) is rejected by the army due to flat feet. Pepper's world collapses and he believes that he could bring his father back home by sheer force.
Personally I'm not a big fan of sentimental, tear jerking films, with moral and Christian values . But this 105 minutes long film kept me in its grasp from the first minute. It reminded me a bit of "Forrest Gump" which is also situated in this period, America during World War II with its homely and Christian values, and with a main character who succeeded in accomplishing something simply by perseverance and believe. As antithesis of this pious values, some inferior qualities (racism and bullying) that sometimes emerge in a person, are being used. The son of the local doctor, Dr. Fox (a funny rendition by Kevin James) who does a follow-up on Pepper's condition and tries to get in the favor of Pepper's mother Emma (Emily Watson), takes care of the bullying part. The racism against Asian civilians is nourished by the attack on Pearl Harbor, after which Japanese citizens were accommodated in camps. The target here is the returned resident Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) who's constantly being threatened by both London and a fellow townsman (Ted "The Silence of the Lambs" Levine), whose son was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even Pepper is sucked into this spiral of hatred.
To steer everything in the right direction, the priest Oliver (Tom Wilkinson) shows up and tries to explain to Pepper the meaning of Matthew 17:20 "Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move". And to strengthen his faith, he hands Pepper a to-do list with a few assignments, including the difficult task of befriending Hashimoto. First I must admit that I thought Wilkinson was a very amiable man of faith. The way he helps Pepper. He does that in a child-friendly, compassionate and somewhat playful way and not in a patronizing, intrusive and pedantic manner where contradiction isn't tolerated. Let's say that the ecclesiastical institution is presented in a very different way than it was during that time period (as I imagined it would be).
If you really don't like those sentimental, corny movies that'll make emotional people cry all the time, you'll probably ignore this one. But rest assured, there are also admirable, beautiful aspects in this film. The performances of Tagawa and Wilkinson are just plain fantastic. Both the Japanese citizen who resigns to one's fate and the at that time very modern Catholic priest. Both of them interpret their roles with bravura, although Tagawa seems like the teacher from "The Karate Kid" who stands up for the weak, little fellow. Salvati also delivers a magnificent performance, only it seemed sometimes as if it figuratively grew above his head during the deep emotional moments. And his grimaces and theatrical facial expressions during his attempts to evoke telekinetic powers, looked rather funny after a while. And that his name was associated with the most destructive weapon of WWII, actually caused a nasty aftertaste. But besides that, this film told a story of everlasting hope and confidence and still succeeded to fascinate me. A movie with a smile and a tear.
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