Racism and religion, hatred and friendship, bullying and war, atomic bombs and the consequences of using them – heavy stuff to pack into a faith-based film. And one aimed at children.
“Little Boy” is loaded with weighty subjects and teachable moments, all doled out between generous helpings of tragedy and sentiment. It’s ambitious, but a cluttered weeper whose lessons might have stuck, had there been fewer of them.
Pepper (Jakob Salvati) grows up during World War II, when his dad (Michael Rapaport) goes into combat in the Pacific. The teen brother (David Henrie) who didn’t qualify for service, makes sure that Pepper, derisively nicknamed “Little Boy” by one and all, knows who to hate.
Little Boy finds his racism lessons interrupted when a kindly priest (Tom Wilkinson, superb) forces him to befriend the other most bullied person in their coastal California town, Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), an older man just released from an internment camp.
The director of the anti-abortion drama “Bella” will give you whiplash with his abrupt changes in tone. Newsreels and animation mimic the racist propaganda of the day, and the teen brother, egged on by the grieving father (Ted Levine) of a casualty, takes up drinking and hate crimes. Mom (Emily Watson) weeps for her missing-in-action husband and is hounded by a doctor (Kevin James) who thinks she’s a widow.
Where would this “Little Boy” be without faith, without believing in something greater than all the woes that face his world? That lesson, and the kindly and sympathetic presence of Wilkinson, makes this scattered but upbeat serving of schmaltz more palatable than the angrier “God’s Not Dead.”
Cast: Jakob Salvati, Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson, David Henrie and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Director: Alejandro Monteverde
Rated PG-13 (some mature thematic material and violence)