American society’s compulsive need to fit people into neatly labelled boxes is usually mirrored in cinematic convention. When categorising romances, we split them neatly down the middle, assigning various expectations depending on whether they are ‘gay’ or ‘straight’. Giant Little Ones attempts to defy these expectations by pursuing a worthy message of sexual fluidity, but fails to do justice to its complex themes.
The film begins like any American teen story, introducing the protagonist, Franky, as a seemingly carefree kid via shots of him cycling through his polished, middle class hometown. Franky, like any 16 year old, is interested in three things: his best friend (Ballas), his girlfriend (Priscilla), and his place on the school’s ultra-macho swim team. Early on, we witness his popularity as he saunters through the school, fist-bumping several other students. He appears to be a conventional heterosexual teenager, even accompanied by a lesbian sidekick, Mouse, whose sexuality is immediately established through a tasteless comment on Priscilla’s ‘rack’.
This carefully maintained image begins to unravel after a drunk party leaves Ballas alone with Franky. In their inebriated state, the pair experiment sexually with each other – an encounter that will leave Franky to battle with an identity he cannot put a firm finger on. To make things even worse, he is abandoned by Ballas, who tells the rest of the school that Franky initiated non-consensual sex in order to cover his own back.
Physical abuse is not something which is new to the queer consciousness, yet the reliance upon violence within Giant Little Ones is disappointing. The scene between Ballas and Franky happens entirely off screen, whilst the homophobic abuse that comes as a result of this love is explored in depth. Intentionally or otherwise, this decision reiterates the idea that those who engage in sexual relationships with the same gender will be punished on screen. Franky is bullied, taunted and beaten for his attractions, yet the homophobic characters – of which there are plenty – never seem to receive any kind of comeuppance. This leads to a frustrating situation whereby a non-heterosexual protagonist is victimised without any chance to take ownership of his situation.
Franky is pushed even further into the simplified role of ‘victim’ through his paper-thin character development; his personality never manages to shine, void of any shred of independence and depth beyond a body to be beaten. There is no insight with which to present the internal dilemma which he must face, as his thought processes remain entirely unknown. Instead, the film races from scene to scene, rarely allowing the camera to settle long enough to establish true emotion between characters, or even an identification between viewer and protagonist. Clunky dialogue ranges from vapid to ludicrous – a scene where Franky tells his mother that she’s the ‘hottest single mom ever’ springs to mind.
In the end, queer exploration feels more like a mistake that Franky must recover from, rather than a valid part of his sexuality. A couple of scenes in the third act do edge into the realm of empathetic; one moment where Franky jokes around with Mouse towards the end of the film feels particularly poignant. This hurried development comes too little too late, however, and the overwhelming take-away of Giant Little Ones is that of an experiment gone wrong, one which is obsessed with the violence of the oppressor, but does not care for the recovery of the oppressed.
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