Saturday movie review: Little Boy

Sometimes as adults and definitely as kids, we don't want to believe reality and think if we believe long enough and hard enough that the impossible can come true, that the inevitable bad will turn out to not be inevitable. If we have faith.

Little Boy movie poster

The 2015 drama (with a heavy dose of family friendly humor) LITTLE BOY carries the tagline "Believe the Impossible," which makes it pretty darn obvious it's gonna be about belief and faith and hoping for the impossible to become possible.

The little boy of the title is 8-year-old Pepper Flynt Busbee (Jakob Salvati), and the impossible he's most trying to have faith in is that his beloved dad, his "partner" (Michael Rappaport) will return alive from fighting the Japanese in World War II.

Little Boy/Pepper is indeed a little boy. Because of his small stature, his dad, James Busbee (Rappaport) has formed a magical bond with the boy. Father and son engage in outlandish imaginary play, love the movies, are enraptured by mystical magician Ben Eagle (Ben Chaplin). The two are tight, far tighter than James is with his older son London (David Henrie). But when London's flat feet keep him from joining the military, James goes in his place, leaving Little Boy and London alone with their mom (Emily Watson).

Little Boy is distraught and willing to do anything to ensure his dad's safe return home from the war. After a sermon regarding having faith the size of merely a mustard seed, Little Boy turns to Father Oliver (Tom Wilkinson) for an explanation and some guarantees Dad will be safe. Of course, there are no guarantees for such, but Father Oliver challenges Little Boy with a list of faith-based things to do — feed the sick, clothe the naked, bury the dead, etc. — and tells the boy (right or not) that following those ancient rules will result in his father's safe return. Father Oliver knows they won't, but he knows doing them will make a difference for Pepper.

So Pepper/Little Boy sets out to knock items off the list, ever reluctantly so when Father Oliver puts a kink in things by encouraging the boy to befriend a "Jap" who has been ostracized by the entire town.


Now, I won't reveal whether Little Boy's faith brings home his father. But his quest for such is sweet and turns out to be a fun tale to watch. Even if, as the "Jap" Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) points out to Father Oliver, telling the boy his acts will bring dad home is not the right thing to do for a desperate child.

Hashimoto is one of my favorite characters in LITTLE BOY as he's the voice of reason to a great degree. And a very sympathetic character without overtly seeking sympathy. And Jakob Salvati in the title role is fabulous. He's naive, charming, determined — and not so precious he makes ya wanna puke. You do want to hug him, though.

Wilkinson and Watson are always wonderful. Ben Chaplin is hilarious as the oh-so serious magician Ben Eagle, especially when saving a damsel in distress. Also in a small role is Kevin James playing a well-balanced smarmy sort of fella (can there be such a thing?) who happens to be Little Boy's doctor as well as the father of Little Boy's biggest bully.

What I loved, loved, loved most about LITTLE BOY, though, is the cinematography, the feel of the film, of the period. It all felt very old, very much like those richly saturated, "filmed in Technicolor" movies of long ago.

I loved, too, the interjections of flights of fancy revealing the thoughts and imaginary happenings of Little Boy as well as some historic moments. The back-and-forth between real and imaginary wasn't confusing, more so, it was endearing, reminiscent of the imaginary moments in the lovely film AMELIE.

Ultimately, LITTLE BOY can be a wee bit corny. But as I've mentioned in past films, sometimes corny is okay. And now is a good time to turn to films that are uplifting, filled with hope and family and love. Every once in a while we just plain need to believe in the impossible, to have faith that good overcomes bad, and that good things happen to good people.

Here Kathie Lee and Hoda interview the director and several cast members:

LITTLE BOY (rated PG for "some mature thematic material and violence") was released in theaters in spring of 2015 and is now available on DVD and streaming services (I streamed it on Netflix).