NEW YORK (CNS) — Religious values and a gentle sensibility pervade the family-friendly drama “Little Boy” (Open Road).
Yet, while suitable for a wide audience, director Alejandro Monteverde’s good-hearted, nostalgic parable, set in 1940s coastal California, is not without its occasional aesthetic lapses.
At its best, this tale of an undersized, bullied lad named Pepper (Jakob Salvati) who sets out to prove his faith in God by performing a series of good works is reminiscent of the 1983 holiday-themed classic “A Christmas Story.”
Whereas the protagonist of that film had no more exalted goal in mind than to receive a B.B. gun as a Christmas present, however, Pepper is angling for a far weightier objective. He’s praying for the divinely guided release of his beloved father, James (Michael Rapaport), a GI taken prisoner by the Japanese.
Early scenes narrated by the adult Pepper (voice of Barry Ford) show us the touching bond between the youthful outcast and his sympathetic, resolutely supportive dad.
Under James’ guidance and inspired by the example of his favorite comic-book and serial movie hero, Ben Eagle (Ben Chaplin), diminutive Pepper comes to believe in his own potential. Thus he’s able to give a positive response to his father’s repeated question: “Do you believe we can do this?”
In the wake of James’ emotionally wrenching departure for the war, Pepper’s kindly parish priest, Father Oliver (Tom Wilkinson), tries to help the 7-year-old recognize the difference between mere wish-fulfillment and trust in God’s providence. He presents Pepper with a list of the corporal works of mercy, and encourages the boy to carry them out as a tangible demonstration of his pious devotion.
Along with the more familiar tasks of feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, Father Oliver also requires Pepper to cleanse his mind of hatred by befriending a fellow outsider, Japanese-American widower Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Since his discharge from a government-run detention camp, Hashimoto has been ostracized by the local community — and threatened by some of its more hotheaded citizens.
Pepper’s older brother London (David Henrie) has been among those targeting Hashimoto. Though Pepper himself gradually overcomes his antipathy toward the reclusive stranger, London shows little inclination to greater tolerance. Their compassionate mother Emma (Emily Watson), by contrast, proves more open-minded.
With its lessons about persistence in belief and the need to overcome prejudice, “Little Boy” will be particularly welcomed by viewers of faith. Even those who appreciate its numerous assets, however, may note moments of forced plotting.
James, for instance, is portrayed as having essentially no choice but to take London’s place in the ranks after the latter, an eager volunteer, turns out to be flat-footed — and therefore medically unfit to serve.
There are also interludes of undeniable sentimentality. Yet this plucky and positive tale, with its affirmative presentation of the priesthood — and of Catholic life in general — makes for winning entertainment that’s well-suited to all but the youngest potential moviegoers.
The film contains scenes of combat with minimal gore and a couple of crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103