Little Boxes

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Little Boxes Movie Poster Image
Interesting, edgy indie drama tackles racism, fitting in.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 84 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Change can be very difficult, but if you stick together, you can get through it. It's important to check in and be honest with those you care about. Race is a complicated issue, and while it's difficult to completely escape racism, it's also important to realize that not every conflict is about skin color.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mack and Gina have to navigate some bumps in their marriage after their move, but they manage to show that a deep bond can see a couple through. All of the adult characters are flawed but seem, for the most part, to be trying to do their best. Clark is a mostly good kid who acts out when he finds himself in new surroundings/uncharted waters. Everyone could stand to be better communicators. The central, mixed-race family is used to a diverse urban environment; their new town is pretty homogeneously white.

Violence

Arguments between couples; yelling between adults and adults/kids. An angry kid throws a rock through a window.

Sex

A precocious tween girl flirts suggestively with a boy her age and starts to take her swimsuit off in front of him before wrapping herself in a towel. Her mom finds them flailing about together on her bed, but nothing serious has taken place. Additional flirting; tween girls perform a dance routine with some butt-shaking, etc.

Language

Frequent swearing, including "s--t," "ass," and "f--k." In one scene, a tween boy uses some of these words to his mother. In another scene, a girl disparages her mother by saying "she's such a C-word."

Consumerism

Several characters use Mac laptops. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults get sloppy drunk, doing shots of tequila and enjoying a long liquid lunch at a bar. One character also likes to use prescription drugs recreationally. Two tweens sit in a hot tub, enjoying "grown-up drinks" that one of them has mixed for them. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Little Boxes is an insightful, edgy indie dramedy about the huge changes a family deals with after moving from New York City to suburban Washington State. Older tweens swear (including "f--k" and allusions to what they call "the C word"), sneak alcoholic drinks, try to handle big emotions (which, in one case, leads to a boy throwing a rock through a window), and flirt/nearly get physical (a girl starts to strip in front of a boy her age). The grown-ups don't fare that better, drowning their anxieties in booze, getting into arguments, and failing to communicate with those who love them the most. The central mixed-race family faces both micro- and macro-aggressions and racism in their new town; ultimately, feeling at home requires adjustments and honesty on everyone's part.

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What's the story?

In LITTLE BOXES, the summer before he starts sixth grade, Clark (Armani Jackson) and his parents move from Brooklyn to Rome, Washington, where his mom has a new job at the local college. That's a tough change for any kid, and it's even more complicated for Clark, who's biracial and has to find his place in an extremely white suburban town. He's quickly befriended by two girls, Ambrosia (Oona Laurence) and Julie (Miranda McKeon), who might be eager to grow up too quickly. Meanwhile, Clark's parents -- Mack (Nelsan Ellis) and Gina (Melanie Lynskey) -- also realize that small-town life is very different from the big city. 

Is it any good?

Authenticity and insight into what frightens and afflicts writers, musicians, artists, etc. are what keep this movie afloat when it somewhat loses its momentum near the end. Because any veteran New Yorker/urban dweller will recognize the truth that lies at the heart of what makes Mack and Gina decide to leave their beloved (but too expensive) Brooklyn for a job in the Pacific Northwest in Little Boxes. Who doesn't get sick of the city after spending years in a too-expensive apartment trying to make your hustle work, especially if that hustle is something in the creative field, which brings tens of thousands of fellow artists -- aka competitors -- to NYC each year?

Credit is due to Lynskey, Ellis, and Jackson; they ground the movie with their believable, natural performances. Nonetheless, what Little Boxes seems to forget about movies is that they not only have to start strong, but they need to end that way, too, with credible plot diversions and believable wrap-ups that don't leave viewers hanging or befuddled. (For instance: Can mold mitigation actually be completed in three hours?) And while the film pokes fun at all its characters, even Mack and Gina, it reserves its sharpest critiques for suburbanites, trading on cliches that are overplayed.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about race. What role does race play in Little Boxes? Some incidents/encounters clearly seem racist, while others are more nuanced. How do the characters handle them? What do you think you'd have done in their situation?

  • Do Clark and his new friends seem like realistic tweens? Does the way the experiment with drinking and sex feel believable? What are the consequences?

  • How does Clark fit into his new neighborhood? What makes it easier -- or harder -- for him? How about his parents? How do they fit in? Are issues related to belonging something that changes/gets easier with age?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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