Little Boy is full of paradoxes, and at first I wasn’t sure what to think of it. At times, it seemed like a story with a religious point of view (Christian at first, but then Eastern beliefs were mixed in); at times, it seemed to be admiring violence, but at other times, it seemed anti-war; and numerous times it seemed to imply a causal connection between events that were simply correlated in time.
Pepper Busbee, aka “Little Boy” (Salvati) is a slight, meek child of around eight who is small for his age and who is bullied by the heavy-set punk in town and his lackeys. The refreshing part is Pepper’s completely innocent, inquiring mind. He has an extremely close connection with his father who plays with him and uses fantasy to build up his self-confidence and self-esteem. Unfortunately, this is during World War II, and the father is called away for military service. In addition to Little Boy, he leaves behind his wife Emma (Watson) and older son London (Henrie). London isn’t really old enough to manage his father’s business well, and he seems to have a chip on his shoulder and have a weakness for drink, so things will not go smoothly in the father’s absence. In addition, the screenwriters (Director Alejandro Monteverde and Pepe Portillo) made Emma, the mother, out to be a “weak Willie”, who seldom gives guidance or comfort or sets limits when she needs to. To the film’s discredit, the fully talented and skilled Watson is hung out to dry.
The film deals with discrimination against other nationalities in the form of the local Japanese man, Hashimoto (Tagawa), showing the cruel ways in which a small town un-welcomes such a person in their midst. London is one of these; however, the priest (Wilkinson) has subtle ways of protecting him, and unwittingly gets him and Little Boy acquainted. Now, Hashimoto has a friend and Little Boy has two father figures to stand in for his beloved dad, the priest and the Japanese man.
Much of the story is played out in Little Boy’s magical and religious efforts to bring his father back through mind control and charitable tasks that are similar to those in the Bible (e.g., give shelter to the homeless) that the priest has given him to fulfill so that divine intervention might come into play. This ploy is challenged a bit by Hashimoto who relies more on a Zen-like philosophy. A strong point of the film is juxtaposing these two points of view of two friends without taking sides with either.
Little Boy is engaging with good direction and skillful acting, and I especially appreciated its exemplifying differing points of view without taking a clear stand. Yet, there was the irritating experience of feeling like the filmmakers were coming down on the viewer too heavily, as if the audience wouldn’t get the point or like a preacher who is trying to convert the nonbeliever. It also seemed unnecessary—and a little cheap—to insert a sleazy character like Dr. Fox (James) who makes inappropriate advances on Emma when her husband is away. Of course there are people like that, but the interchanges do not seem to belong in this type of film.
Finally, I concluded that the bottom line of Little Boy was that small things and small people could have a huge impact on those around them and that belief in oneself is essential for that to occur. From that standpoint, it seems like an uplifting story told something like a fairy tale, with “good” and “bad” elements made fuzzy so that the listener has to think.
A sort of modern fairy tale set during WWII.
Grade: C+ By Donna R. Copeland