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Raising the right questions

Teenage coming-out film avoids preachiness

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/4/2019 (395 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There are teen movies made just for teens. Then there are teen movies made for teens and people who remember being teens. This affecting, delicate Canadian drama from filmmaker Keith Behrman (Flower & Garnet) falls into the latter category.

While not as accomplished as Lady Bird or Eighth Grade, Giant Little Ones avoids the usual high school clichés, crafting an honest and nuanced 21st-century coming-out story.

Behrman’s kids are navigating a world in which gender and sexuality are fluid. For the teenage characters in GLO — and even some of the grown-ups — adulthood is less about claiming a fixed identity and more about recognizing the wondrous complexity of desire and love.

Rumours about Franky’s (Josh Wiggins) sexuality swirl around his school. (Mongrel Media)

Rumours about Franky’s (Josh Wiggins) sexuality swirl around his school. (Mongrel Media)

While most teen movies focus on underdogs, outcasts and oddballs, Giant Little Ones starts out, at least, with high school royalty. Franky (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (Darren Mann) are carelessly handsome swim team stars. They date popular, pretty girls and throw big parties.

Things get a bit more complicated when the dynamic between these lifelong friends shifts after a late-night incident at Franky’s 17th birthday bash.

Rumours about Franky’s sexuality swirl around school, a development that gets even more layers of emotional complication from the fact that his father, Ray (Twin Peaks’ Kyle MacLachlan), has recently left his mother, Carly (Maria Bello of NCIS), for another man.

Behrman recognizes that the traditional teenage coming-out tale is operating on shifting terrain.

Franky’s liberal household talks openly about sex. Franky’s school has an anti-harassment policy that coaches and teachers try to enforce. Franky can get advice from his hilariously world-weary gender-queer friend Mouse (Niamh Wilson), who’s basically been out since elementary school.

Official enlightenment is one thing, though. The sneaky cruelty of adolescence, as teens try on and test out their sexual identities, is another. The word "slut" still shows up on a girl’s locker; the openly gay kid on the swim team is still bullied in the locker room.

Franky's mother Carly (Maria Bello) is separated from her husband after he left her for a man. (Mongrel Media)

Franky's mother Carly (Maria Bello) is separated from her husband after he left her for a man. (Mongrel Media)

Behrman extends a tender respect to his teen characters, while being generous to their parents, who are shown as loving and involved, but also occasionally confused. (It’s refreshing to see that confusion isn’t just an adolescent thing.) A long, lovely interchange between Franky and his father is an effective emotional encapsulation of the film’s intentions.

Behrman does have a message, but the film avoids preachiness through authentic, underplayed performances and crafted filmmaking. As caught by Behrman, Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., is all leafy streets where you can ride your bike down the middle of the road.

As Franky comes to terms with his 17-year-old self, GLO raises topical questions, but remains open-ended, kind of like its characters.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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