'Giant Little Ones' Embraces Fluidity

Giant Little Ones
(Canada, 93 min.)
Written and directed by Keith Behrman
Starring: Josh Wiggins, Maria Bello, Darren Mann, Taylor Hickson, Kyle MacLachlan, Peter Outerbridge
queer questioning boy
Josh Wiggins stars in Giant Little Ones
Mongrel Media

Love stories often contain fireworks. Either literal or figurative, sometimes both, these bright bursts offer convenient metaphors for sparks that fly between connected souls. In Giant Little Ones, the long-awaited sophomore feature of Keith Behrman following his 2002 debut Flower & Garnet, the story offers no fireworks, but it does shoot off a few flare guns. The image of best friends Franky (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (Darren Mann) sending little rockets into the air offers a touching, understated image of sexual awakening. The flares that fly upwards into the night don’t travel a straight path—they sail in unconventional arcs before erupting into bright, glowing euphoric bursts of red light that warm the heart. Handsomely shot and driven by an upbeat indie soundtrack, Giant Little Ones is at its best when it speaks for the characters without saying anything. These explosions in the sky are warmly reassuring gestures in an intimate coming of age story.

Giant Little Ones, an expected but worthy choice in TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten list, gives a refreshing take on the coming of age and coming out of the closet stories of adolescence. Franky quickly approaches a turning point in realizing his sexual identity as he approaches his seventeenth birthday. His sort-of girlfriend Cil (Hailey Kittie) desperately wants the mark the occasion by losing their virginity together, but, unlike the boys of American Pie or almost every other teen-set movie, Franky isn’t in a rush to get it on with his girl. Franky is just taking his time in coming into his own as a sexual being. Berhman’s portrait of the confusing time of adolescence is at its most authentic when it gives Wiggins lingering pauses and moments to explore his character’s self-doubts.

Take, for example, the interested gaze the camera turns upon Ballas when the film sees him from Franky’s point of view. Ballas, virile and muscular compared to the smaller, shyer Franky, is a true alpha male. The camera loves to linger on him as Berhman peppers the film with brief moments of curiosity as Franky looks at his friend with a view that isn’t quite longing, but not necessarily platonic. It’s one of questioning. Ballas loves to boast about his sex life, like bragging about doing it six times in one night, but it also seems like a bit of an act that insecure jocks are prone to explore.

Soon comes the fateful night of Franky’s birthday and there are no fireworks to be had with Cil. Ballas, ever a good BFF, keeps Franky company as they ride their bikes through their small town. The boys simply enjoy the recklessness of their youth and explore that fleeting period between adolescence and adulthood, zipping through the streets, getting hammered on liquored up Slurpees, and being boisterous. Ballas presents Franky with his birthday gift: a flare gun, which they fire into the night and watch as the sky burns.

Cut to later in the evening and drunken fumbles and moans of pleasure are seen and heard in Franky’s bedroom. It’s a confusing and disorienting moment, and purposefully, smartly so before Ballas erupts from the covers and flees. The boys have crossed a line and explored a new side of their friendship.

What follows from the intimate tryst is an all-too relevant tale of bullying and homophobia in a culture that preaches openness and fluidity, but practices intolerance and conservatism. Franky becomes ostracised in his high school, branded something deviant, terrible, and wrong. This torment adds to what is already a great deal of confusion. Something beautiful becomes something horrible as Franky is pushed into his sexuality rather afforded the right to discover it.

Giant Little Ones dramatizes the terrain of sexual fluidity with refreshing candour as Franky further explores the dimensions of his identity. He develops a relationship with Ballas’s younger sister Tasha (Taylor Hickson) that teaches him the values of intimacy and consent. His parents wrestle with their own questions of love and self-acceptance as his mother Carly (Maria Bello, a welcome presence even if she isn’t given nearly enough to do) finds herself in a revolving door of dates years after Franky’s father, Ray, (Kyle MacLachlan) discovered that he was gay. Through each of the film’s relationships, Behrman injects elements that allow Franky to understand himself within a growing conversation on the inclusiveness of sexuality. Giant Little Ones gives MacLachlan a great scene that recalls Michael Stuhlbarg’s intimate, supportive confessional in Call Me By Your Name as Ray opens himself up to Franky and reassures him that there is great love to be found at the end of this hard time.

Franky’s friend Mouse (Niamh Wilson) is one of the school’s few openly queers students and she encourages Franky to explore himself through her. Mouse is in her own stage of trying on various fits of gender identity by stuffing her undies with socks or sporting a strap on. One incredibly awkward scene—that is, in its own way, surprisingly sweet—sees Mouse invite Franky to grip on her newly packed penis and tell her how much it feels like the real thing. Their uncomfortable game, a sort of show you mine/show me yours, lets Franky discover himself in turn as his friend imparts the normalcy of navigating of sexual selves.

Berhman finds new angles in familiar terrain in the coming of age/coming out subgenre and finds a rich cast of characters to explore the spectrum. He gives Wiggins ample room to explore the character and unlike even notable recent queer dramas that put the weight of acceptance on the parents, Giant Little Ones insists on giving Franky agency as he comes to his own decision. As much as they film draws out the pervasive violence of homophobia, it also doesn’t let characters off the hook if they too readily allow others to speak for Franky. Wiggins has matured greatly as an actor since breaking out in Nathan Morlando’s Terrence Malicky drama Mean Dreams and he makes Franky a refreshingly inquisitive, silent, and strong character. His accessible and nuanced performance conveys the turbulence of emotions that comes with questioning. Franky embodies the fear one feels, not only of being found out, but in taking a risk with love. The film never puts a label on Franky’s identity, either, and embraces the element of fluidity that lets Franky evolve over time, like a flare navigating its course, waiting to burst and proclaim itself when the time is right.

Giant Little Ones is now available on home video.