There’s a stereotype that people from big cities, from urban metropolises where things move fast, are indeed, fast and loose with morals and understanding. There’s a stereotype that these children just grow up way too quickly. And okay, like a huge chunk of stereotypes, there’s some validity to this. Conversely, the belief remains that in small cities and rural counties, life is bucolic and the lifestyles are pastoral, even though reality, has proved that to be mostly untrue as well.
In the new dramatic comedy “Little Boxes,” these myths are untethered when a family moves from bustling New York City to the lily white town of Rome in Washington State. The normally tight-knit family, only used to handling big city life, begin to slowly fall apart as they adjust to small town life, dealing with societal and racial disparities, as well as micro-aggressions, from the isolated people of their new college town.
And there’s nothing like separating people from their world to reveal their insecurities and secrets.
The core of these issues are seen through the eyes of Clark (Armani Jackson, “The Last Witch Hunter”), who as a biracial kid about to enter the 6th grade, is regarded as the only Black (though really only ‘black-ish’) kid in town. When he connects with neighbors Ambrosia (Oona Laurence, “Lamb” – 2015) and Julie (Miranda McKeon), the respectively precocious and her relative lackey invoke racial and sexual perceptions of Black men on him that the somewhat racially ignorant Clark seems too weak to combat, lest he lose the only friends he’s made in town. In an effort to act “more Black”, Clark gradually descents into their obtuse behavior, as does mom Gina (Melanie Lynskey, CBS’ “Two and a Half Men”) with her cohorts, the local University community of female educators. Led by Helena, the always irascible Janeane Garofalo, they are all miserable at their jobs and lives, and drink way too much in the middle of the day, and drive the usually genial art teacher Gina down the same road.
Meanwhile, Clark’s father Mack, a formerly accomplished writer trying to generate new work, faces similar confrontations his son does, but mostly juggles with inadequacy and boredom as he struggles to keep his family, his own sanity, and his cool, together. With these responsibilities, actor Nelsan Ellis as Mack is the heart of the film, a function he’s seemed to master based on previous starring roles such as in the James Brown biopic “Get on Up” and his longstanding portrayal of Lafayette Reynolds in HBO’s “True Blood.” That he does so best with sarcasm and a wink lends to Ellis’ ability to hold a film together, so hopefully the release of “Little Boxes” will lend to that line of thinking.
The film works because of how it presents a lot of things literally in small contexts, and with it centering on how to find yourself again once the patterns you’ve built over the years have totally upended, the ride is both enlightening and enjoyable.
“Little Boxes” opens theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on April 14th, and concurrently on Video-on-Demand/Digital.
Directed by Rob Meyer
Executive Produced by Cary Fukunaga
with Melanie Lynskey, Nelsan Ellis, Armani Jackson, Oona Laurence, Miranda McKeon, Janeane Garofalo, Christine Taylor