Little Boxes (2016)

Little Boxes
Director: Rob Meyer
Writer: Annie J. Howell
Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Nelsan Ellis, Armani Jackson, Oona Laurence, Janeane Garofalo, Christine Taylor, Miranda McKeon, Maliq Johnson, Nadia Dajani, Veanne Cox
Seen on: 22.11.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism

Mack (Nelsan Ellis), Nina (Melanie Lynskey) and their son Clark (Armani Jackson) are leaving New York City to move to a small town in Washington where Nina got a job as an art professor. Adjusting to their new situation isn’t easy, though. Nina struggles to learn the social rules at her college. Mack finds himself struggling to focus on his own work as a writer in the new environment. And Clark has to face being pretty much the only Black kid in town – as if being a teenage boy wasn’t complicated enough already. To make matters worse, the moving company is late and all of their stuff is missing. Maybe moving wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Little Boxes is a sweet film that lives off its vivid characters, and their understandable problems with the move. Do not watch it if you have to move yourself in the next few weeks, because you probably won’t want to do it anymore afterwards.

The film poster showing Mack (Nelsan Ellis), Clark (Armani Jackson) and Nina (Melanie Lynskey) sitting on a couch in front of their house, all looking in a different direction.

Little Boxes is not a flashy film. There are no bigger than life moments (though some poetic license is taken), but it rather focuses on the everyday complications of adjusting to a completely new environment. Those are enough anyway, if you ask me. But of course, we do expect larger than life stuff when we watch a movie. That Little Boxes works regardless is thanks to its great characters.

Mack, Nina and Clark work nicely as a family, but all three of them also get their own arc and their own problems with the movie. With great performances by Ellis, Lynskey and Jackson, the characters really come to life. It’s a joy to watch them perform – not that it feels much like a performance in the first place.

Mack (Nelsan Ellis), Clark (Armani Jackson) and Nina (Melanie Lynskey) standing amid boxes and furniture on their front lawn.

The film is often funny, but it doesn’t gloss over the very real racism Mack and Clark (especially Clark) face. It’s very sharp in its observations there and doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to the white, apparently progressive neighborhood. Given that those problems aren’t that easily solved, the film reaches a too happy end a little too quickly. (Which is maybe also why I was so happy I didn’t have to move myself after watching it.)

But that’s pretty much the only thing that I didn’t like all that much about it – and that’s just a small trade-off for an otherwise sweet and insightful film.

Mack (Nelsan Ellis) and Clark (Armani Jackson) having a heart-to-heart.

Summarizing: very watchable.

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