“Little Boxes” Explores Growing Up Biracial and the Small Defining Boxes that Compartmentalize Our Culture By Steve V. Rodriguez – TFF Premiere

Nelsan Ellis, Armani Jackson and Melanie Lynskey star in "Little Boxes"

Nelsan Ellis, Armani Jackson and Melanie Lynskey star in “Little Boxes”

In the new film “Little Boxes”, which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival and was just acquired by Netflix, a family relocates from the Big Apple to the suburbs when the mother, played by Melanie Lynskey obtains a prominent position in the art department of a university. Relocating to any new city is a big deal, but layering in the culture shock that ensues moving from Harlem to a suburb called Rome,  where the majority of the population is white, plus a biracial family makes for more than this family bargained for in this touching and insightful drama by Writer Annie J. Howell,  and Director Rob Meyer.

Cleverly told through the eyes of each family member: parents Gina and Mack (Nelsan Ellis), and their son, Clark (Armani Jackson), each struggle to fit into their new life that seems foreign and unlike their former surroundings. Gina enters her new role in the art department at the university, but soon finds her new colleagues are more concerned with coping with daily stress through alcohol, than talking business. Meanwhile, Gina’s husband Mack, a private chef, is frustrated at home trying to work on a new recipe article, but is limited without wifi, any of their belongings which are lost in transit and a strange smell he’s convinced is mold living in their brand new home. Finally, their biracial son, Clark is trying to fit in by hanging out with two neighborhood girls who seem more infatuated with him being black than trying to be good friends.

Through the interweaving of each of the three family member’s stories of trying to fit into their new lives, paired with the frustration each member brings back home to their nucleus,  it would appear that they aren’t cut out for this new life. Frustrations build to anger, which ultimately lead to blame.

Both writer and director have carefully constructed a modern day tale looking at one aspect of growing up biracial, but equally looks at ‘fitting in’ no matter what stage of life one is embarking on. Through humor, particularly with the new neighbors, colleagues and people they come across,  who all seem to be fascinated with the new ‘city folk’, treating them more like peculiar foreigners, rather than people, “Little Boxes” makes for a touching and well crafted film. Writer, Annie J. Howell never steers to far off the meter with the over the top behavior the suburb folk elicit, showing that we all come with preconceived notions, chips on our shoulders and older ways of doing things that need to be shaken off if we truly want to immerse ourselves in a new culture.

Melanie Lynskey continues to showcase her natural adept skill at portraying people we can relate to in everyday life, which is hard to believe given one of her first roles was opposite Kate Winslet in the very dark film,  “Heavenly Creatures”. Nelsan Ellis is also great as the father who is leery of his new surroundings, but it’s Armani Jackson, who shines as a kid who misses his former city life, but is going to give this new suburb a chance, never thinking about being biracial, until it’s brought up to him from others.

Look for “Little Boxes” to be released on Netflix at some point this year.