I’m guessing I don’t need to tell you that Little Boy is a bad movie. The reviews have been resoundingly negative, the trailer looks awful, and faith-based films don’t tend to have the best track record re: quality.
Just in case you need to be reassured: Yes, Little Boy is bad. My screening started off with a video introduction that featured producer/actor Eduardo Verstegui telling us we rarely get to see a film that “not only entertains, but also lifts your spirits” (sit down, special snowflake) and co-executive producer (and faith film impresario) Roma Downey soothingly informing us that “it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness… Little Boy is that candle.”
The movie proceeds from there, telling a gratingly cutesy tale of a little kid named Pepper (Jakob Salvati) who believes that, if he just has enough faith, he can will his soldier father home from World War II. Most of the characters are so one-dimensional as to be thoroughly uninteresting. Kevin James pops up in a rare dramatic role as the local Doctor, whom I think screenwriters Alejandro Monteverde and Pepe Portillo meant to present as a nice guy, except he’s a sleazeball who hits on Emily Watson in front of her son as soon as her husband goes off to war, so that’s kind of weird.
The trailer makes it look like having faith literally gives Pepper, nicknamed “Little Boy” by the world’s least creative bully for his diminutive stature, superpowers. That is not the case. Instead, it’s more metaphorical. The friendly Friar Oliver (Tom Wilkinson) informs Pepper that, if he has enough faith—which he can “collect,” sort of, by doing good deeds like like befriending the local town pariah, a Japanese-American man named Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, whom I will always love for Mortal Kombat reasons)—God might decide to reach down from heaven and grant him his prayers. For example, challenged to prove the power of his faith by a local bully, Pepper tries to move a mountain, and an earthquake happens. Some of the townspeople say it’s a coincidence; others believe it’s an act of God. The movie itself belongs to the latter camp.
That brings us to the biggest problem with Little Boy. After he’s told that the only real chance his POW father (Michael Rapaport) has to come home is if the war ends, Pepper goes hard on the faith whisperer spirit fingers, directing his faith beam every night across the ocean in the general direction of Japan. Shortly thereafter, as a folksy version of “This Little Light of Mine” plays in the background, a triumphant Pepper is told that, by gum, he did it! The war is over! Because the Allies dropped a bomb on Hiroshima! A bomb called… Little Boy.
Take a moment to absorb that. We can argue all day long about whether the Allies were right to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Well, you can. I’m going to stay out of that one.) But we should all be able to agree that joyfully celebrating mass death as the “will of God” as opposed to say, a necessary evil, is—to quote a modern masterpiece—fifty shades of fucked up.
It’s like when athletes attribute a victory to “God being on our side,” assuming in the process that God reached down a cosmic middle finger to the other team, whom God apparently likes less. Except instead of one team losing a game, almost two hundred thousand people died. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the movie’s sole Japanese-American character—though presented as a kind, upstanding gentleman—also expresses doubt in there being a higher power, several times referring to Friar Oliver’s God as his “imaginary friend” and saying he only has faith in himself. (His lack of religious belief might be the result of trauma from having been imprisoned in an internment camp, but the movie doesn’t explicitly go into his experiences there, and what do I know?)
The script does pay some lip service to the fact that the bombing wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows and Roma Downey flying around wearing wings and a halo. Pepper’s mother (Watson) tells her son that the bomb “wiped out an entire city.” There’s a brief shot of a bombed-out Hiroshima, and Pepper has a dream where he’s walking around the destroyed city and sees some corpses, one of which belongs to his father. It all takes about two minutes. As a telling symptom of this movie’s appalling lack of empathy, we are never made privy to Hashimoto’s reaction to the attack—though he’s been away from Japan for 40-odd years and considers himself American, he is still shown as being unapologetically proud of his Japanese heritage in the face of small-town bigotry, decorating his house with kabuki masks and teaching Pepper about a famous samurai.
After that interlude of WTFery, we’re treated to a dull half an hour where everyone thinks Pepper’s father was killed before his POW camp could be liberated. That, combined with the bare-bones acknowledgement of nuclear terror, made me think that maybe this movie wasn’t telling us that the bombing of Hiroshima was the happy result of a little boy praying to bring his father home. Because his father still died, didn’t he? Except then it turns out the father isn’t dead. Pepper’s big brother London (David Henrie), until that point skeptical of the power of faith, swings his brother around in the air while crowing “You did it, you little runt! You did it!”
“Woo-hoo! God decided to grant you a miracle by killing thousands upon thousands of people, most of them civilians! Wait, shit, we’re not acknowledging that last part anymore, are we? Gotcha. They’re all godless heathens anyway, so who cares? Our God is an awesome God.”
I saw a movie recently that ends with the heroine driving off into the sunset to torture a six-year-old kid, and it was less fucked up than this. I need to take a shower.
Rebecca is on Twitter if anyone else who saw this movie wants to bond over the harrowing experience.