WWith its coming-of-age title, its coming-of-age story and its teenage protagonist on the verge of coming out, Big Boys sounds like LGBTQIA+ fare that grows on trees. Indeed, this debut from writer-director Corey Sherman is a veritable four-leaf clover: delicate, unique and subtly magical.
In its 16-year-old lead actor, Isaac Krasner, the film boasts a star and breakthrough performance reminiscent of Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore. (It should come as no surprise that he recently starred opposite Nicole Kidman in the thriller Holland, Michigan.) His 14-year-old character, Jamie, also has the studied charm and comedy of Rushmore protagonist Max Fisher. Preparing for a long weekend at Lake Arrowhead, California, with his loutish brother Will (Taj Cross) and their older brother, Eli (Dora Madison), Jamie—whose hero is Anthony Bourdain—packs an array of spices to season campfire meat. .
He is anxious to know what purpose Ellie’s new boyfriend will tag as a cousin-only jaunt. That is, until he claps eyes on the interviewer, Dan (David Johnson III), with his strong arms, backwards baseball cap and warm blokey manner. Jamie blubbers nervously about the importance of protection against wild animals in the woods but now he has a different kind of bear on his mind.
One of the joys of Big Boys lies in the contrast between the film’s easy, unforced rhythm and Jamie’s growing desire for Dan, whose large build and pillowy eyes make him look like the boy’s older double. A child with all fingers and toes around him, Krasner’s highly expressive fidgeting betrays Jamie’s inner chaos. Sherman’s script avoids any confrontation or crisis, allowing Dan’s teenage tendency to read meaning into every wink or smile.
That central tension dominates the picture but other relationships have room to breathe. Ellie and Jamie’s mutual protectiveness is expressed in a handful of endearing exchanges. A flame of fraternal harmony, abandoned since childhood and extinguished by teenage animosity, flares between Jamie and Will as they play sea monster games in the lake. And a fight between Jamie and another shy teenager, Erica (a breathless Marian Van Cuck), swirls the romantic pain around and provides a mirror image of her longing for Dan. The pseudo-drunk pantomime he effects to escape Erica’s lips creates the closest thing to a comic crescendo here.
It’s a sign of how well-judged the script and performances are that only one moment feels remotely false: Dan’s unexpected announcement, during a conversation about The Lord of the Rings, that he would “be gay for Viggo Mortensen”. That too, though, could be a sign that he’s subconsciously internalized Jamie’s desire and is doing his best to reassure her.
From Gus Bendinelli’s luminous cinematography to an ethereal score by Baths (aka Will Wiesenfeld) that’s layered with soaring vocals, Big Boys is very low-key, reminiscent of the 1977 heartbreaker Blue Jeans – about a French exchange student pining for a boy. Steals his girlfriend – as blatantly as Call Me By Your Name.
One of the last cuts of the film, which dissolves us from the lake to the suburbs without a single farewell, and gives the feeling that the summer has gone too soon.