Published at RenewAmerica
Pepper Flynt Busbee isn’t the tallest eight year old in town, but he thinks big. Bullies push him around every chance they get, but Pepper wants to be a hero. When his dad and only playmate goes away to fight in World War II, Pepper is heartbroken and Father Oliver comes to the rescue by giving Pepper a magnificent mission.
This is the plot of the great new family movie “Little Boy” that opens nationwide on Friday, April 24.
“Little Boy” is made by Metanoia Films, the company founded by Mexican immigrants Eduardo Verástegui and Alejandro Monteverde, along with American Leo Severino. Monteverde wrote the story with Pepe Portillo, another filmmaker from Mexico.
The film is beautifully written, directed and acted, but some critics resent its power to make us weep, laugh or smile from one moment to the next.
Jakob Salvati stars as Pepper. In real-life, his brother Joshua auditioned for the role of Little Boy, so Jakob went along. When Monteverde saw Jakob playing in the hallway, he asked him to audition. Then, when the filmmakers announced that they had chosen Jakob, Joshua burst out crying—not in sorrow, but in joy. As Joshua explained it: The Salvati family was poor, they were about to lose their house but Jakob’s new job would save them. Moved by Joshua, the Metanoia men hired him as Jakob’s body double and he’s Little Boy in the movie poster.
Something about Michael Rapaport as Little Boy’s dad James had me shedding tears within the first 10 minutes of the film, and I wasn’t the only one crying. The big man seated next to me sniffled and wiped his face with his hands until I could help him with a tissue.
Emily Watson plays Little Boy’s classy mom, Emma, and David Henrie is Pepper’s impetuous big brother, London.
Kevin James is a surprise treat as Doctor Fox, the family physician. Trying to make-up for his son Freddy, the lead bully played by Matthew Miller, Doctor Fox brands Pepper with the nickname Little Boy.
At a screening in Washington, Verástegui told me and the rest of the audience that he spent five years of his life making this movie and his quest involved explaining to Mexican investors why it had to be about an American family.
Verástegui didn’t say this, but in the big picture much of the world is influenced by American cinema and our government’s policies. In real life, countless refugees told me that they studied America’s Bill of Rights and they dreamed and sacrificed everything to live here in peace. In real life, it reflects the dreams of the Metanoia men too.
Right now, as countless people around the world struggle for human rights, “Little Boy” is profoundly timely because the filmmakers dare to address sins that our federal government committed during World War II: As we fought Nazi atrocities, President Franklin Roosevelt illegally ordered that residents of Japanese heritage be sent to prison camps. Later, President Harry Truman ordered our military to drop the atomic bombs on civilians in Japan.
Thus, “Little Boy” isn’t only Pepper’s nickname. It becomes a nightmare for Pepper when he learns that it’s the name for one of the atomic bombs.
Some critics say the bomb theme is too much for children, but I disagree. On one hand, many children are taught that climate change is impending doom, yet they aren’t taught about the erosion of human rights. On the other hand, when I was child, I wanted truth. I couldn’t comprehend the real manmade horrors of slavery in the USA or the Nazi holocaust, but I wanted to know how real heroes conquered these evils.
With this in mind, my favorite part of “Little Boy” is good Father Oliver, portrayed by Tom Wilkinson. Father knows almost everything happening and he is a commanding father figure to the whole town. He knows that the townspeople have outcast and scorned Mr. Hashimoto, newly released from interment. He also knows the danger of Pepper being influenced by the bigots.
A magician comes to town and convinces Pepper that he moved a bottle with sheer willpower. Pepper hears at church that it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains. He moved a bottle across the magician’s table and his faith is bigger than a mustard seed, so he should be able to move Earth and bring his father home. To Pepper’s surprise, Father gives him a more valiant mission. Little Boy must fulfill the Corporal Acts of Mercy and befriend Mr. Hashimoto, played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. All of this unfolds in ways bigger than Pepper or Father Oliver imagine. And all of this can help Americans to change the world starting at home.
Boom! “Little Boy” is a love bomb.