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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Little Boy movie review: faith-based bomb

Little Boy red light David Henrie

A shamefully miscalculated tale of whimsy and come-to-Jesus inspiration with a bizarrely inappropriate haze of Norman Rockwell-esque nostalgia.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of “faith-based” movies

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

In a seaside town “like you see in postcards” in 1940s California, eight-year-old Pepper Flynt Busbee (Jakob Salvati: Escape from Tomorrow) is sad, because his best friend — his father (Michael Rapaport: The Heat, Hitch) — has gone off to fight against the Japs in the Pacific. Mom (Emily Watson: Everest, A Royal Night Out) was always the one to bring the two buddies back down to Earth from their pretend adventures, but she cannot stop Pepper now: he has been convinced by comic-book and movie-serial hero Ben Eagle the Magician (Ben Chaplin: Cinderella, War Book) and local priest Father Oliver (Tom Wilkinson: Unfinished Business, Selma) that he really can do magic, but he has to build up to the big kind of sorcery that will end the war and bring Dad home again.

The simple-minded sap of Little Boy is the usual sort of crass and offensive for quite a long while: as a way to increase the kid’s Jesus-fueled magic powers, the priest assigns Pepper the task of being nice to the only Japanese person in town, who is being subjected to the most awful abuse from “patriotic” white Americans, and so Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa: The Man in the High Castle, 47 Ronin) becomes a sort of Asian equivalent of a magic Negro, a patient, tolerant, kindly, and wise exotic figure who is naturally perfectly happy to guide to enlightenment a snotty little white child who had previously stated, “If I could I would smash every Jap with my bare hands.”

But writer (with Pepe Portillo) and director Alejandro Monteverde has only just gotten started: he is determined to give us a shamefully miscalculated tale of whimsy, childhood fantasy, and come-to-Jesus inspiration, and he is not interested in half measures. So when Pepper, who is small for his age and is taunted by the other kids as “Little Boy” — which isn’t a very effective taunt, but bear with Monteverde — learns that Japan is directly across the ocean from his town, he aims all the magical power he has been developing in that direction. And almost instantly comes the news that the war is over thanks to a new kind of weapon, a bomb called — wait for it — “Little Boy,” which fills the townspeople with awe at Pepper’s powers. You see, Pepper wished hard enough, and God rained down nuclear hellfire on the people of Japan, and now Pepper’s father can come home. Isn’t that lovely?

Through Little Boy’s bizarrely inappropriate haze of Norman Rockwell-esque nostalgia and youthful wonder, you can almost hear Monteverde marveling that no one had beaten him to the concept of connecting a child’s uplifting emotional adventure with terrible weapons that destroy entire cities. As this appalling movie demonstrates, there are very good reasons for that.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Little Boy for its representation of girls and women.


red light half a star

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Little Boy (2015)
US/Can release: Apr 24 2015

MPAA: rated PG-13 for some mature thematic material and violence

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    “Atomic power, atomic power, it was given by the mighty hand of God…”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sP01ylAkfo

  • Bluejay

    You see, Pepper wished hard enough, and God rained down nuclear hellfire on the people of Japan, and now Pepper’s father can come home.

    What. The. Actual. Fuck.

  • Danielm80

    It’s a complicated allegory for the American state of mind, where people claim to hate racism and bigotry while doing horribly destructive things to minorities and speak out passionately about Christian values without following any of them.

    Also, the Michael Bay Transformers movies are an allegory for the Trump campaign.

  • Bluejay

    Actually, this song is the perfect allegory for the Trump campaign. It should be his theme song.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sQ8R54C53o

  • Danielm80

    I’ve known for a while that the anger of white men who think they’re losing their power and influence is a major political force. It’s scary to realize that I underestimated how much impact it would have.

    I’ve had this song stuck in my head all morning:

    http://youtu.be/9PokNApGM6E

  • Who would Jesus nuke?

  • bronxbee

    not just white men. i have, much to my dismay, found there are many women of my acquaintance who also think Trump is “da bomb.”

  • LaSargenta

    What reasons do they give?

  • Danielm80

    I’ve said this before, but I think a lot of people are convinced that if we put a strong, tough man—like John Wayne or Dirty Harry—in charge of everything, we could Make America Great Again. It’s a weird nostalgia for a time that never existed, like an Arthurian myth.

    I’ve been reading a terrific book about Daniel Ellsberg, which, strangely, has cheered me up a little. The country was just as bitterly divided back then, but it’s inspiring to hear about progressives who found a way to make a difference.

  • “Pepper Flynt Busbee”

    hahahahahahahahaha

  • Jurgan

    Dirty Harry was a vicious misanthrope who trampled civil liberties in pursuit of his own merciless form of justice. So, yeah, he reminds me of Trump, too.

  • bronxbee

    pretty much the same reason as the men: they are tired of establishment politicians (and there, who can blame them?); they think obama is (pick one from any column): the anti-christ (women can be religious right-wingerss too), who aborts innocent white babies, a non-american, who has brought this country down and caused job loss. there is a lot of talk about how Trump “tells it like it is” (which, as my sister has commented, “so does your drunk uncle bob at thanksgiving… do you want him for president?”). mostly, although perhaps not in as blunt language as men, they don’t like blacks, immigrants, non-christians, muslims in particular, they think we need to re-turn to a “golden age” and “make the greatest country in the world, america, great again.” they think with trump, their taxes will be lowered, more people who are living high on the hog, will be kicked off welfare… it’s all the same bull dinky.

  • bronxbee

    exactly… some of the staunchest supporters of hitler leading up to his control of germany were christian women, which was ironic in so many ways, as hitler had little use for christianity (or any religion) except as a tool for control, and was a stauch advocate of women losing jobs and staying in the kitchen, church and nursery. many very well educated german women (before the first world war, germany was way ahead in women’s education and professionalism) were forced out of their jobs as professors and chemists and other jobs. but middle and working class women were convinced he would be the savior of germany and return them to their (again, mythical) golden age. seeing as germany had only been unified as an actual country for less than 100 years, it was just another type of mass hypnosis.

  • bronxbee

    i know! all i could think of was that was the kind of name used in the 1950s children’s literature to make a character who was bland and boring sound rebellious and interesting.

  • LaSargenta

    That’s sad. I was hoping that there might be some difference…

    Well, ok, thanks for taking one for the team. I’ve mostly haven’t found myself around Trump supporters. I guess I live under a rock (in so many ways).

  • His brother’s name is “London.”

  • RogerBW

    The quiet resentment of not-like-us has been part of right-wing political rhetoric for so long, encouraged but never explicitly spoken, that it’s not surprising to find that, when someone is prepared actually to say it rather than be mealy-mouthed, he’ll find people to support him for it. Drunk Uncle Bob again.

  • Danielm80
  • Bluejay

    I see they left out all the characters named by JK Rowling. As well as all the candidates for president of FIFA.

    http://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2015/10/26/9567057/fifa-president-candidates-names

  • Danielm80

    Rowling’s names are always being compared to Dickens’. Some people seem to think that’s a good thing.

  • Danielm80

    And if Trump gets elected, you can live under a rock in Canada.

    This story is off-topic, but I think about it all the time when I’m watching the news:

    http://www.newsfromme.com/2010/11/14/the-travis-story/

  • lilyboosh

    “Pepper Flynt Busbee”.. such contrived names. Also, this looks morally repellent, almost as if it had been written for a religious audience… in 1946. Are you sure it’s not meant as some sort of cynical underground satire or something? I find it hard to believe a modern production team could be so horrifically tone-deaf.

  • lilyboosh

    When He hits.. like an atom bomb
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bosM-_4lVzs

  • lilyboosh

    Sounds like he played with Beaver Cleaver xD

  • bronxbee

    most of the ones i “know” are on FB and are either friends of friends… or distant relatives of distant relatives. but it is disturbing…

  • bronxbee

    ah, see that should have been his *sister’s* name to keep the true flavor going…

  • bronxbee

    wow. some really winners in there, although — to be fair — America, Dymphna and a few others are actual names being used. it’s the combinations that are … irksome? unusual? weird?

  • There’s absolutely nothing even accidentally satirical here.

  • lilyboosh

    Just.. wow.

  • Steve Speedburner

    It is so funny. First of all, the movie includes the practice of faith so there was no way MJ was going to give it 3 bags of popcorn or 4 thumbs up. Secondly – lets trounce one tired and overstated myth – that all Christians are just big hypocrites. The Christian church gives more charity to help those in need than any other organization or group on the planet. And Trump? I am not a fan, but it is clear as day why conservatives like him (and hilarious how completely perplexed liberals are in trying to understand it). Liberals have been jamming their worldview down our throats for the past decade and most of the so-called conservative leaders were weak. Trump totally screws with liberals and it is great theater and kind of satisfying to watch. Do I think he should be POTUS? probably not. Do i think it would be nice to have someone who stood up to other world leaders? Heck, yea.

  • Bluejay

    the movie includes the practice of faith so there was no way MJ was going to give it 3 bags of popcorn or 4 thumbs up

    First, she acknowledges her bias at the top of the review, so you’re not making any great revelations here. Second, Les Miserables is one of the most Christian movies I know, and she loved it. Needless to say, Jean Valjean isn’t the type of Christian who would ask God to destroy a Japanese city.

    Trump? I am not a fan, but it is clear as day why conservatives like him… Do I think he should be POTUS? probably not.

    Okay, I’ll bite. It’s clear from your comments that you’re a conservative, or at least you don’t like liberals. So why aren’t you a fan of Trump? Why don’t you think he should be president? And are your reasons different from the reasons that liberals think he shouldn’t be president?

  • BraveGamgee

    “Second, Les Miserables is one of the most Christian movies I know, and she loved it. Needless to say, Jean Valjean isn’t the type of Christian who would ask God to destroy a Japanese city.”

    Gosh, I would write an essay on why I appreciate this quote so much if I had the time.

  • Liberals have been jamming their worldview down our throats for the past decade

    Thanks for my new website tagline.

  • To be fair to the kid in the movie, he doesn’t *know* that he’s asking God to destroy a Japanese city. Only the grownups with historical hindsight know that they’re crafting a story in which this is the case.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I don’t suppose it would help to change your mind if I dared to point out that many conservatives have expressed disdain for Donald Trump as well and surprise, surprise, not all of them are related to Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush. The National Review even ran a recent cover story advising its readers to vote against Trump. Somewhat I doubt they did that because the magazine’s editors are secretly hoping for a Hilary Clinton victory in November.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Ah, it’s enough to make one yearn for the good old days when most characters in YA novels had nice normal names like Huckleberry…

  • Danielm80

    Well, Steve said he’s not a fan, so I think he is a conservative who has disdain for Trump. He just hates liberals more.

  • Tonio Kruger

    True.

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