Can Faith As Small As a Mustard Seed, Or a Little Boy, Truly Move Mountains?
Director: ALEJANDRO MONTEVERDE/2015
Little Boy stands alone this weekend, in a crowded release weekend, as perhaps the most “feel-good” of the bunch. From the producers who brought you Son of God (Roma Downey and Mark Burnett) and the director of Bella (Alejandro Monteverde) comes this small but charming film that deals with themes much bigger than its stature.
Jakob Salvati plays Pepper Busbee, a small boy with a big imagination. Encouraged by his father James (Michael Rappaport-Hitch, The Heat) who loves to play with him and pretend that they are everything from pirates to cowboys, Pepper is constantly daydreaming of their next adventures. Following the catch phrase of their shared comic book hero Ben Eagle (Ben Chaplin-The Thin Red Line, Murder by Numbers), a magician, James asks, “do you believe you can do this” to which young Pepper always replies in the affirmative.
When Pepper’s older brother London (David Henrie-Witches of Waverly Place) is deemed “4F” for the war on account of his flat feet, his father James must fill in for him to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II. After a tearful goodbye, Pepper is desperate to find a way to get his dad home safe.
The nickname of “little boy” is branded upon Pepper due to his size and the fact that he hasn’t grown for some time. The name came from a local bully, whose father also happens to be the town doctor (Kevin James) Mr. Fox, who is a widower looking to make Mrs. Busbee (Emily Watson) his wife, if James Busbee doesn’t come home from the war.
One day, a local priest speaks in church about having faith “like a mustard seed”. When Pepper goes to ask further about faith and mustard seeds, he eventually speaks with the head priest played by the excellent Tom Wilkinson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Batman Begins) who explains that he must have faith, but also show that faith in action.
Having already been encouraged that he has the power to move objects after participating in a magic trick with the real Ben Eagle on stage, what the priest is sharing with him makes sense. His plan is that once he can summon enough faith, he’ll be able to literally move a mountain as the scripture from the sermon said. By doing so, he’ll be able to bring his dad back home.
The entire film is seen through the eyes of a child, and is a good family based film. That being said, it is not afraid to wrestle with some rather deep subjects. Besides the horror of war, Little Boy deals with the internment of Japanese people following the attack on Pearl Harbor. It visually shows some of the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Japan, as well as shows the horrific verbal abuse Japanese-Americans suffered being called several names such as “Jap” or “nip”, etc.
The priest cleverly seeks to channel little boy’s fervor by giving him the “ancient list” to accomplish to show is faith is ready. Mainly this is a list of Christian works such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, burying the dead, and one difficult item on the list that the priest adds….”make friends with Hashimoto” (Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa). This is especially hard for Pepper as Hashimoto is a Japanese in the middle of the town that hates him because he “looks like the enemy” who had just bombed Pearl Harbor.
The film deals with the grand notion of forgiveness, hope, faith, and love. It does so with the sweetness of another small film character who as a child thought he was given a purpose to live out. That character was Simon Birch. Like Simon, there is deep seeded genuine desire to help others that Pepper possess. And like Simon Birch’s faith in God having a plan for him, Pepper believes in his powers, and that is what will bring his father home. There is also a little bit of Forrest Gump weaving in and out of this story as incredible things happen without the protagonist’s knowledge but are believed to be a result of his involvement (Think about the name of the atomic bomb that hit Japan first for example).
While the film’s message of faith, love, and forgiveness comes right out of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, the film doesn’t seek to proselytize its audience as other faith-based films do, allowing instead for strong questions to arise from the story on what it means to truly wrestle with these notions of love, forgiveness, etc.
Despite any flaws it might have, Little Boy is a film with its heart in the right place. Featuring a strong cast, notable themes, a pure heart, and a mostly clean film (other than some racial terms mentioned above) that the majority of the family can watch together (though it might have some graphic images of war for younger viewers), Little Boy might just inspire you to do great things in the service of others. All it takes is faith….like a little boy who believes they can “do this!”