“These girls want it just as much as you do,” Franky’s lab partner Mouse (Niamh Wilson) informs him shortly after “Giant Little Ones” begins, far less interested in practicing chemistry than seeing it transpire across the room as Priscilla (Hailey Kittle) makes eyes at him. It’s an indication of the raging hormones to be found all over Franky’s high school, but not necessarily in directions you’ve seen onscreen before in Keith Behrman’s sophomore narrative feature, and although it is Priscilla who pushes Franky (Josh Wiggins) towards his first time rather than the other way around, it’s Franky’s best friend Ballas (Darren Mann) who surprises most by getting drunk at a party and getting frisky one night although both are avowed heterosexuals. Making their interactions during swim team practice especially awkward, word of the the incident finds its way to the rumor mill, turning the friends against each other as Balla refuses to confirm it happened and Franky begins to reconnect with Ballas’ sister Tash (Taylor Hickson), not as a revenge move as her brother surely sees it, but in how the two can bond over feeling like outcasts since Tash has her own gossipy history to contend with.
Being well aware of the big emotional swings of this particular age and the way other filmmakers have confined the epiphanies to the young, straight white male at its center, “Giant Little Ones” is careful to acknowledge the formula while slyly subverting it by giving everybody onscreen something to learn about one another as the film wears on, as well as in many cases something to discover about themselves. It’s no accident Behrman casts such wily actors as Maria Bello and Kyle MacLachlan as Frankie’s parents Carly and Ray, long divorced after Ray found love with another man, and just as the two struggle with Frankie’s choices in the aftermath of the dissolution of his friendship with Ballas, you see how their separation has shaped Frankie for better and worse, opening him up to new ideas about the different paths love can take while knowing how devastating it can be when it ends.
While the subtle shift in perspective enlivens the film, so too does a vibrant score from Michael Brook and crisp camerawork by cinematographer Guy Godfree that speaks the same language as the teens do onscreen, seemingly upfront and immediate to reflect being present in the moment, but always with the sense that something’s being withheld. As characters start letting their guard down, the film’s cool sheen starts to ebb away and “Giant Little Ones” grows more intimate. If there’s a flaw in the film, it’s that Behrman can be too subtle at times, particularly with the central event of Ballas and Franky’s late night exploits understandably left off camera, but the question of what really happened and how anyone else found out about it growing more confusing than intriguing. Still, it sparks the conversation the writer/director clearly wants to be having as the characters find greater clarity about where they stand and who they are, and how that can be fluid over time, and while what you may be witnessing is a transition, the impression “Giant Little Ones” leaves is indelible.