Faith, Film and a Little Boy
“Limitation is creation,” says Alejandro Monteverde, the co-writer and director of the new film Little Boy. The movie, from executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey (Son of God, A.D.) tells the story of a boy who strives to do whatever he can to bring his dad (played by Michael Rapaport) home from World War II.
“You always want to write about something you know and have lived, and I’m always facing big challenges,” the young director says. Born in Mexico, Monteverde learned English at 18 and moved to Austin, Texas, to study film. His first major film Bella was made for a little over $3 million and grossed an estimated $12 million worldwide after being the surprise winner of the 2006 Toronto Film Festival. So for Monteverde, following up that performance was a major challenge.
“I’ve always been the underdog,” he says, “so I was looking for the perfect underdog story.”
He found that in the story of 8-year-old Pepper Busbee (played by Jakob Salvati) whose stunted growth earns him the characterization of a “little boy” by his doctor (played by Kevin James). When his father is drafted to fight the Japanese in place of the boy’s flat-footed older brother (played by David Henrie), Pepper is left at home with his loving, but fragile mother (Oscar-nominee Emily Watson).
“I wanted to have the greatest challenge in front of him,” says Monteverde. “I wanted to see what would happen if he would lose everything he had … and his only friend was his dad. Then war comes and separates them.”
Pepper goes on a journey, which leads him to his local priest (Oscar-nominee Tom Wilkinson), who tries to separate his Hollywood-inspired misconception of faith as magic and hands him a list of Corporal Works of Mercy to perform. It is intended to demonstrate his faith, and it leads him on a mission of courage and good will, forcing him to confront his own bigotry, fear and lack of faith.“All he had was his imagination and his will to believe what was impossible,” Monteverde says, speaking of his lead character, but also speaking of himself. In the end, we’re left with a story that is slightly preposterous, but somehow charming. It entertains, enlightens, encourages and inspires.
Critics put off by films that put faith in a positive light have been quick to thrash Little Boy. One critic wrote, “The already converted are happy to show up to the theater in droves and bask in their own sense of moral superiority — which must be nice for them.” He’s partly right: Christians will overwhelmingly enjoy Little Boy because they don’t feel the need to judge those of faith and won’t flinch when God’s name is invoked in pop culture. But that’s not moral superiority; in fact, it’s just the opposite. We don’t take comfort in self-sufficiency precisely because we know we cannot do everything on our own. As Monteverde says, “To believe takes a lot of courage.”
So give Little Boy a chance. Perhaps you will be as pleasantly surprised as I was when I saw it. And in the words of the writer and director, “Be ready to believe the impossible.”