Friday, January 29, 2016

Sundance ’16: Little Gangster

Rik Boskamp is probably lucky his father doesn’t make him wear wooden shoes. The widower has changed nothing in their home since the death of Boskamp’s mother, including the rotary phone and the top-loading VCR. However, it is Paul Boskamp’s meek submissiveness that directly leads to the bullying his son endures at school. However, when his father is promoted to a different branch office, the younger Boskamp takes advantage of the opportunity to create a new, mobbed-up persona in Arne Toonen’s Little Gangster (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Actually, Paul Boskamp did not want to accept the transfer in the first place, forcing his son to resort to a little forgery. It is probably good training for his reinvented identity, Rikki Boscampi, mobster’s son. After throwing out the nebbish clothes his father prefers, “Rikki” forces them to don their old, retro 1970s threads, which give off the desired gangster aura. A couple tweaks here and there convinces his new school mates he is the real deal. Naturally, he starts patronizing the local Italian market run by the sultry Gina. Boscampi would be delighted to fix her up with his father, but that might be asking too much. Unfortunately, he will have more pressing problems when a bullying father-and-son tandem from before also relocate to their new neighborhood.

It is hard to believe Little Gangster comes from the director of the Tarantino-esque drug dealer movie Black Out, but here it is. Toonen certainly keeps thing lively. Thor Braun is okay as the scheming Boskampi, while Henry van Loon deftly walks a fine line, making his father a put-upon doormat, but not cringingly so. Meral Polat also gives the film periodic energy boosts as Gina. Unfortunately, none of the other kids really register as anything but bullies or victims.

Screenwriter Lotte Tabbers’ adaptation of Marjon Hoffman’s YA novel manages to have it both ways, advising “to thine own self be true,” while more-or-less rewarding Rikki Boscampi’s initiative. Of course, ten year-olds are not overly fond of bitterly tragic endings, so there are only so many lessons he can safely learn the hard way. Despite the subtitles, Gangster is easily accessible and highly digestible. Breezily entertaining for kids and somewhat amusing for adults, Little Gangster screens again tomorrow (1/30) in Park City, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.