If a loved one was away fighting in a war, wouldn’t you do anything to bring them home safely? That’s the premise of Little Boy, a film about a young boy whose faith is tested as he promises to do everything within his power to bring his dad home safely from World War II.
Little Boy, released by independent film studio Open Road Films, opens with a narrator recounting his hometown, the fictional O’Hare, CA, telling us his story set on the homefront of World War II. The narrator remembers his childhood as we focus in on Pepper Busbee (Jacob Salvati), a young child who, according to the narrator, has no friends other than his father whom he fondly calls his partner.
Pepper is very small for his age, a short 39 inches, and never seems to grow taller. In fact, his short stature is a reason that Pepper is bullied by the other children, including Freddie (Mathew Miller). As the doctor’s son, Freddie nicknames Pepper “Little Boy” in order to avoid being punished by his father (Kevin James) for calling him a midget. This “politically correct” nickname sticks, and before long, the entire town is calling Pepper “Little Boy,” which, aside from being the title of the film, has an important connection to the war as the story unfolds. Without giving away too much, it is important to remember the name of the atomic bomb that is released on Hiroshima.
After Pearl Harbor is bombed, the men of the town are anxious to enlist to help “fight the Japs,” but Pepper’s older brother, London (David Henry), is unfit for military service on account of his flat feet. Their father, James (Michael Rapaport), steps up and enlists in his son’s place. This is the first real problem with the movie in that it would appear that one male from each household was required to enlist, or be drafted, which is not historically accurate. It is not really believable that James, a 40-ish-year-old father of two, would be drafted. This plot device explains the enlistment of this family’s father, and maybe we are supposed to see this from the child’s point of view. So perhaps it was Pepper’s interpretation that his father had to go because his brother could not.
While James is gone, the film explains that some of the Japanese are released from their internment camps through a loyalty program, which introduces us to Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), an older Japanese-American who lives in the town and is also bullied because of his Japanese heritage. The only friend Hashimoto has in the town is Father Oliver (played brilliantly by Tom Wilkinson). Father Oliver also guides Pepper through lessons on faith and brings about the unusual friendship between Hashimoto and Pepper.
As he tries to understand the sermon about faith being as small as a mustard seed and yet still large enough to move a mountain, Pepper seeks guidance by first stealing a mustard seed from the local grocery, then from the fictional Ben Eagle, a superhero in magician form, then from Father Oliver.
Father Oliver mentors Pepper in the rites of faith, including shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, visit those in prison, bury the dead, and specifically befriend Hashimoto. Pepper sees Hashimoto as “The Jap” along with the rest of the townspeople at this point, and he is forced to make friends with an enemy to rid himself of his inner hatred. While Pepper works to bring his father home, he develops a friendship and creates a loyal bond with a former enemy along the way.
While the story lacks in historical accuracy, the acting is on point. Salvati is adorable as “Little Boy,” along with other recognizable names such as Emma Watson as his mother, and Henry, Rapaport, Tagawa, and Wilkinson. The film can’t function as an accurate WWII story, but it makes up for its embellishments with the naiveté of a child’s point of view. Little Boy is also predictable at times, but it is a feel-good story with many lessons about friendship, determination, racism, acceptance, faith, inner-strength and the importance of family.
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