A lot of teen movies start out with a character feeling like an outcast. Maybe they're a nerd. Maybe they're a transfer student. Maybe they're hiding who they really are. Either way, there are labels involved and, often, those characters feel better about themselves or have more clarity on their lives by the end. Keith Behrman's new film Giant Little Ones (out in New York City now and opening in other locations on Mar. 8) puts a new spin on that tradition. Especially when it comes to labels, Giant Little Ones tackles sexuality, orientation, and self-discovery while making one point in particular: Not everything needs to be defined to be valid.
And since that's not what viewers are used to, especially in a coming of age movie, this story of best friends who end up having a sexual experience with one another feels like it will be a coming out story. But it's not. Not really.
"It starts out kind of regular," says 20-year-old Josh Wiggins, who plays Franky, speaking over the phone along with his co-star, Darren Mann. "You're kind of curious to what the conflict is going to be because it starts out with two kids who are best friends; they're both very comfortable in the environment that they're at."
But then, a hookup after a birthday party completely changes their relationship. Suddenly, Franky is, seemingly, outed as gay, while he's still processing how he feels about his sexuality himself. Meanwhile, Ballas, played by Mann, is full of anger over the situation and directs it all towards Franky.
The film unfolds slowly from there, along with more details about what happened between the two boys. Without giving too much away, there's not a clear resolution when it comes to either characters' sexuality, and that's the whole point.
"I think everyone's really pushed into one label or the other," Wiggins says. "Whether it be sexual identity or gender, or whether it be how you dress or what kind of music you like, people are always putting each other in boxes. And that can really factor into self-identity when someone's growing up and trying to figure out who they are. I think the beautiful thing about this movie is that it covers areas that have been covered before, but it has something very unique to say that I really haven't seen, which is: Don't feel the need to put yourself in these boxes, just be who you are and leave it at that."
Still, Mann, 29, says he's been asked by people who've seen the movie if Ballas is straight or gay, because we are so used to everything being labeled. "I always say that if I answer that I think I'd be doing a disservice to the film," Mann explains, "because he's still figuring himself out and he doesn't need to give an answer right away for who he is. He's still going through life and seeing what attracts him and following his heart wherever life takes him."
Aside from the situation with Franky and Ballas, Giant Little Ones also features Franky's friend, Mouse (Niahm Wilson), who, it is made clear, was assigned the female sex at birth, but is exploring things like wearing artificial male genitalia. Again, the film doesn't label the character as anything in particular; just a young person who is finding themselves.
Of course, plenty of members of the LGBTQIA+ community use labels and are confident in them and proud of them. Giant Little Ones isn't suggesting that everyone leave their sexuality or gender undefined, but rather that people should not rush or feel pressured into defining themselves — to others or within their own minds.
And this doesn't just go for teens. In one pivotal scene, Franky's father, Ray (Kyle MacLachlan), explains his own history with relationships and understanding his sexuality. In fact, Mann and Wiggins believe adults may have as much to gain, if not more, than teens who see the film. "I think kids are a lot more accepting now," Mann says. "Hopefully, this movie can help enlighten adults with their thoughts and perspectives."
Wiggins explains, "You want to reach out to people are familiar with [the perspectives in the film], but you also want to reach people who may not be quite as accepting or even knowledgable about that subject matter." The actor also shares that while he's never been in a situation like the one Franky faces in the film, he could still relate to his character. "Anyone who's grown up not really sure of what they are and had to explore that, anyone who grew up experiencing that can relate to the movie."
Darren and Wiggins think the film ends on an optimistic note when it comes to both Franky and Ballas, even though their relationship isn't tied up into a bow, either. Overall, though, both actors are hopeful people to learn to be more open-minded through watching the film, when it comes to both themselves and others.
"There's this kind of tribal mentally that you kind of need to subscribe to one thing or the other," Wiggins says. "But I think if people can realize that sexuality can be very abstract and that there's no real reason to force yourself to subscribe to any label, that's what I hope people can get from the movie."
Mann adds, "I hope people just feel more comfortable and confident in being their authentic selves and going along the journey and discovering themselves and not needing to jump to any conclusions as to who they are or what they are, but just following their heart and being open and honest to being themselves."