Little Boy is being touted as a faith-based movie, and that it is. But faith in what? God? Prayer? The power of positive thinking? Magic? Faith in faith? Unfortunately, the filmmakers never make their theme clear, and that muddled message undermines the movie’s otherwise good intentions and dramatic power.
Eight-year-old Pepper Busbee (the adorable and talented newcomer Jakob Salvati), nicknamed “Little Boy” because of his diminutive stature, lives in a Norman Rockwell-like town on the coast of California during World War II. Pepper desires just one thing: He wants his dad (Michael Rapaport) to return home safely from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. But what can he do about it? He soon gets an idea when famous illusionist Ben Eagle (Ben Chaplin) comes to town and brings Pepper on-stage to move a soda bottle across a table using only his mind. “Do you believe you can do this?” the magician asks. Pepper does -- mainly because the question is the same one his father would ask him during their playtime scrapes as pirates or cowboys -- and the bottle effortlessly slides across the table. But Pepper doesn’t know it’s a trick. He believes he did it.
Then Pepper hears a sermon in which a priest quotes from the Bible, saying that nothing is impossible if you have faith the size of a mustard seed. Father Oliver (Tom Wilkinson) explains that when prayers are answered, it’s because we moved God to act by our faith. If Pepper wants his dad to come home, he must have faith and not doubt. Oliver gives Pepper a list of good deeds to accomplish, which will supposedly grow his faith. One of these deeds is to befriend the town’s most hated man, a Japanese widower named Hashimoto (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa), who was recently released from an internment camp. Hashimoto and Pepper slowly become great friends, and the pair work together to accomplish most of the tasks on the list. In fact, the film’s most powerful message isn’t about faith at all, but racial tolerance and acceptance. The story excels at this theme, with Hiroyuki-Tagawa delivering a sensitive but unsentimental performance that grounds the movie in reality. The other actors shine as well, especially Emily Watson as Pepper’s all-American mom, Kevin James as a lonely doctor, and David Henrie as Pepper’s older, racist brother.
It’s interesting that Little Boy is purportedly about faith, yet the filmmakers never show Pepper praying. Indeed, his faith isn’t in God, it’s in himself. As Ben Eagle tells him, he must rely on “inner power” to move the bottle. And poor Pepper spends much of the movie grunting and groaning as he points at objects he wants to move, whether it’s a soda bottle, a mountain, or the nation of Japan. And when those things do move, Pepper gets all the credit, not God. You almost expect to hear Yoda or Darth Vader say, “The Force is strong with this one.”
Little Boy is lushly photographed, expertly acted, and competently directed, but those qualities and its inarguably good intentions aren’t enough to rescue it from its own misguided mission. Roma Downey is one of the film’s executive producers, and this picture traffics in the same sort of sanitized, saccharine spirituality and magic realism as her TV series Touched by an Angel. It’s pretty to look at and it’ll surely pluck at your heartstrings and open up your tear ducts, but in the end, it’s empty of any real substance. And no amount of faith will ever change that.
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- Released: 2015
- Rating: R
- Review: Little Boy is being touted as a faith-based movie, and that it is. But faith in what? God? Prayer? The power of positive thinking? Magic? Faith in faith? Unfortunately, the filmmakers never make their theme clear, and that muddled message undermines the mo… (more)