Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Talking Tribeca: Little Boxes

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 13th-24th.

Little Boxes
Directed by Rob Meyer
Festival Screenings

The title “Little Boxes” immediately recalls the 1962 song by Malvina Reynolds that this reviewer came to know as the theme song for the television show “Weeds,” which describes “little boxes made of ticky-tacky” which “look all the same.” The reference is to homes in the suburbs and the way that suburban living discourages diversification and any sort of originality. That title is doubly significant in this film, where a biracial family moves to a new home across the country and is forced to adjust to their new surroundings without the comfort of their belongings, with only a few little boxes while they wait for the delayed arrival of their moving truck.

Mack (Nelsan Ellis) and Gina (Melanie Lynskey) live in Brooklyn with their son Clark (Armani Jackson). When the film starts, the family is packing up to leave New York and move to Rome, Washington. Gina has a tenure-track job waiting for her as a photography teacher at the local college, and Mack is looking forward to focusing on writing his second book so that he can stop contributing food articles to gastronomic magazines. Clark quickly makes friends with two girls who live down the street, while Gina realizes that the tenure-track lifestyle is not what she expected. Mack, who looks substantially different from all those around him, finds boredom and the constant suspicious smell of mold in their new house just as challenging as getting acclimated to a new way of life.

This film deals with many themes and presents them all from a respectfully comedic standpoint. Clark’s tween friends obsess over their dance routine, something totally inappropriate for their young age, but he goes along with it because he’s happy to have friends and doesn’t have anything else to do in the summer. Gina can’t quite hide her New York personality, which earns her raves and jealousy from some and casual contempt from others. Mack wants to believe that a small town might be nice, but the lack of culture and diversity just isn’t cutting it for him. Not having any of their things only adds to the frustration and makes confrontation inevitable.

At times, “Little Boxes” feels like it is taking a chapter out of a family’s life without much sense of where it will end, but as it progresses, it becomes more endearing and involving. Ellis and Lynskey are an unexpected but strong match, both familiar for great TV work on “True Blood” and “Togetherness,” respectively, and well-cast in perfect roles for them. Jackson is also great, as are supporting cast members Janeane Garofalo and Christine Taylor in small but important roles. This is a quiet movie about people transitioning, and it’s an entertaining if not entirely memorable one.


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