Coming-out stories have become common enough that movies are starting to tell them with nuance. The “Am I gay?” question no longer has only two possible answers; there’s a whole spectrum, as 17-year-old Franky Winter (Josh Wiggins) discovers in Giant Little Ones, a discreet and decidedly un-salacious drama from Canadian filmmaker Keith Behrman. Franky is a virgin, but he lives vicariously through his lifelong best friend and high school swim teammate Ballas (Darren Mann), who supposedly enjoys sexytimes with his girlfriend Jess (Kiana Madeira) on the regular. Franky acquires a girlfriend of his own, the sweet but boring Priscilla (Hailey Kittle), but that relationship and his friendship with Ballas are thrown into confusion when Franky and Ballas have a furtive, drunken sexual encounter one night during a sleepover. The audience doesn’t know exactly what happened or even who initiated it; all Ballas says to Franky the next day is, “It would never have happened if we weren’t wasted.” End of discussion.
Except that Ballas apparently isn’t done discussing it, because soon rumors about Franky’s sexuality are swirling around the school, catching the attention of the swim team’s resident homophobe (Evan Marsh) and causing Priscilla to dump him. Franky’s butch, outspoken transgender friend Mouse (Niamh Wilson) tells him to embrace his queerness and people will stop hassling him about it, but while Franky does have some issues with homosexuality — his father (Kyle MacLachlan) recently came out of the closet and left his mother (Maria Bello), prompting bitterness — the simple fact is that he’s not gay. Or he doesn’t think he is, anyway. And why did Ballas lie about what happened?
There are formulaic elements to the film, which ultimately isn’t far removed from the coming-out/coming-of-age indie dramas of the last decade. But it doesn’t pander to gay audiences (even a shower scene has the swim team wearing shorts), and the story takes an unusual turn in the way that Ballas’ sister, Natasha (Taylor Hickson), also a social pariah for unfair reasons, becomes Franky’s supporter and confidante while Ballas pushes him away. Young people trying to sort out their own sexual feelings may find Behrman’s thoughtful, tender-hearted film particularly cathartic, maybe even instructive; everyone else can enjoy a well-acted and unpretentious coming-of-age story.