“Little Gangster” is a foreign language children’s film that captivated a theater full of high school students and made them laugh — a lot.
It’s easy to see why. Based on a little-known children’s novel, the film focuses on the bullied misfit Riki Boskampi, who tricks his father into accepting a promotion and moving to the suburbs. He then tricks his classmates and neighbors into believing that his nerdy, push-over father is an Italian mafia boss, a premise only sustained through sheer coincidence and the plot of one good mafia movie. Although this premise alone is guaranteed to cause a laugh or two, the film’s comedy manages to completely break through the Dutch-English language divide.
Relying on excellent acting and physical comedy that steers clear of the realm of slapstick, this is one children’s movie that adults can enjoy just as much, or perhaps even more considering the movie requires the viewer to read subtitles. For instance, when Riki and his father first move into suburbia, Riki flippantly tells off the neighborhood’s over-vigilant ex-cop, causing his father’s jaw to drop for a good 30 seconds.
In addition to the humor inherent in seeing one of the world’s gangliest and most awkward men being mistaken for a mafia boss by literally everyone he knows, the film digs into the problem of bullying in schools. After Riki reinvents himself as a cool child of the mafia, he comes dangerously close to becoming just like the kids who used to pick on him at his previous school.
During the Q&A that followed the film, Arne Toonen, the film’s director, said he started this project as a way to portray the harm of bullying without becoming “too preachy” about it.
Despite all of the film’s success in presenting a unique take on bullying, it fails at presenting a nuanced portrayal of people with autism. One of the adult side-characters, Antoine, is a two-dimensional character depicted as a simple and child-like plot device that furthers the protagonist’s lie. While the reliance on the “Italian Mafia” stereotypes is creative and innovative, the character Antoine comes across as a poorly-written stock-character.
Additionally, there is a slightly graphic scene in which a bully is tricked into drinking a laxative — the aftermath is shown in all its runny, brown glory, which can be a little much for anyone with a squeamish stomach.
“Little Gangster” has one last showing on Jan. 30 at the Rose Wagner Theatre. Tickets for this film are available on a waitlist basis, but if you still want to experience Toonen’s comedic style, his film “Black Out” is currently on Netflix.