“I think it’s quite the opposite,” the Canadian writer and director said. “It’s a fuller experience of humanity, and a fuller experience of love than any label can summarize or conjure.”
Now in theaters after a well-received premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, “Giant Little Ones” follows two teen boys, Franky (played by Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (Darren Mann), who are at the top of their high school’s social pyramid. Attractive and athletic, the best friends have star spots on the swim team, and spend their days biking about town and boasting about their girlfriends. Their friendship is severely (and violently) tested, however, when they have an unexpected sexual encounter after a drunken party.
A shameful Ballas reacts by spreading the rumor that Franky initiated the act. Now ostracized by classmates, Franky finds solace in his estranged father, Ray (Kyle MacLachlan), who left his mother (Maria Bello) for a man, as well as Ballas’ sister, Natasha (Taylor Hickson), recently victimized in a sexual assault.
In a conversation with HuffPost, Behrman ― who also examined adolescent and familial strife in his 2002 feature, “Flower & Garnet” ― revealed how his own struggles with toxic masculinity influenced “Giant Little Ones” and why he hopes the film encourages viewers to be less afraid of any “ambiguity” with regard to their sexuality.
“Giant Little Ones” marks your first feature film in more than 15 years. How did this project come about for you?
I had a dream one night, and the dream was a young man and his mother talking in a kitchen. I just found their love and their connection so compelling. None of the words of that dream made it into the film, but it got me thinking of the idea.
I started writing some notes about it, and it just kept going and going and going. [Around that same time] there were about five high school suicides that were all related to bullying and homophobia, and I started thinking there was a story to tell regarding that. That’s what began it all.
How much of the film is based on your personal experience?
I’ve always been uncomfortable with the rigid boundaries and very narrow definitions of what it means to be a man, and where sexuality can be experienced and expressed. I felt so alive and vibrant as a kid … and I just found the environment I grew up in was quite the opposite. So, I was always pushing against that. I think I really funneled that frustration and that resistance to definitions of our humanity into the film.
How important was it for you to leave the characters’ sexualities undefined?
I don’t disregard labels [and] I don’t disregard people who have chosen to identify themselves with labels, because I think they have a place and they’re very powerful at certain times. But to me, it felt very important to make a film that expressed something greater about the human experience than any label.
What’s the significance of the title “Giant Little Ones”?
The title, to me, always symbolized the contrast between how small we can feel in the face of other people’s judgment to how giant we can feel when we just embrace ourselves and truly are being ourselves.
The film is really a tour de force for Josh Wiggins, who plays Franky. How did you work with him on developing that character?
[Producer] Allison Black had worked with him on another film, “Mean Dreams.” So she had him on her radar and she was convinced he’d be great. I had a conversation with him, and I thought he’d be great, too. It was a pretty smooth and effortless conversation.
There’s an interesting parallel between Franky and Ballas’ relationship and the one Franky has with his father, Ray.
Initially, there was no father. Then, one day, I had this sudden flash that it would be interesting if Franky’s father had come out and was living with someone else. The father would have broken up the family and shattered Franky’s whole sense of himself.
I thought it would be an interesting element to add to Franky’s dilemma. Ironically, he also became the one who gives Franky what he really needs to find comfort in himself. He’s fundamental to Franky’s journey and evolution.
Another key relationship is the one Franky has with Natasha, who is a victim of sexual abuse.
The film is about sexuality in a broad sense ― what it means to be a human being who has sexuality as part of what we are, as well as what we do with our bodies. It plays into Franky’s story, but it also plays into Natasha’s story. Her body and her choice were violated, and her experience of who she is as a sexual being was shaped by [being] objectified that way.
If there’s a message you want viewers to take away from the film about sexuality, what would that be?
That we don’t need to be afraid of ambiguity around our sexuality. We don’t need to be afraid of any sort of pull we might feel, or curiosity we might have. We don’t need to limit our experiences.
The main subjects I explore [through my work] are identity, love and relationships ― how we as individuals relate, and the importance of our relationships with other people, whether it’s family or society at large. I’m interested in powerful stories about what it means to be a human being and experience the need of our own authenticity.
Watch the full “Giant Little Ones” trailer below.
This interview has been edited and condensed.