Little Boy

Posted by Joel Copling on April 23, 2015

"Little Boy" is a movie of two sides: It wants to be type of "My Dog Skip"-esque family-melodrama answer to the recent trend of faith-based, market-dominating cinematic fare, and it wants to be a sincere exploration of all facets of faith--including skepticism. Unfortunately, it panders exactly where it counts, and its priorities are all out of wack. That ultimately undermines the aspirations to thoughtfulness, but that element is nevertheless here. It's just that the target audience at which the film is aimed is one that requires a dollop of convention to go in between their sandwich of down-home earnestness and spoonfed malarkey.

Pepper Flynt Busbee (Jakob Salvati, who is admittedly somewhere below "untested" as a young actor) is, indeed, a little boy, which is not only his size but a moniker afforded to him by the doctor (Kevin James) of his local town. He's a precocious, little kid, easily gullible to believe that all Japanese people are the scum of the earth when his dad James (Michael Rapaport) is apparently taken prison during the war overseas. Mom Emma (Emily Watson) is distraught, of course, but older brother London (David Henrie) is perhaps even more so, having failed to go to war on dad's behalf. When Pepper discovers supernatural powers during a magic show--and following some encouragement from the local priest (Tom Wilkinson)--he reasons that, with enough belief in the outcome, he can bring his father back from the frontlines.

Screenwriters Alejandro Monteverde (who also directed) and Pepe Portillo have just enough foresight to recognize that the answer isn't as easy as simply believing that it's possible, but the foresight stops in its tracks when presented with the solution of Pepper's true faith--a cruel irony that casts a tragic event in a manipulative light for the purpose of Making a Message. Still, the film surprises in its maturity until this point (Pepper befriends a Japanese man played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and learns by way of some difficult lessons how unpopular this is), even as it constantly undermines that by trying, not so much to tug at the heartstrings, but to yank them until near-breaking point. "Little Boy" has some worthy things to say, but it needed a less manipulative way to do so.

Film Information

Jakob Salvati (Pepper Flynt Busbee/Little Boy), Emily Watson (Emma Busbee), David Henrie (London Busbee), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Hashimoto), Tom Wilkinson (Fr. Oliver), Ted Levine (Sam), Michael Rapaport (James Busbee), Kevin James (Dr. Fox), Eduardo Verastegui (Fr. Crispin), Ben Chaplin (Ben Eagle).

Directed by Alejandro Monteverde and written by Monteverde and Pepe Portillo.

Rated PG-13 (mature thematic material, violence).

100 minutes.

Released on April 24, 2015.