Ira Sachs's lean but potent film is the kind of story that works wonderfully well on its own, but it's actually the third in a trilogy about relationships and real estate involving New Yorkers of varied generations (he wrote all three with Mauricio Zacharias). The characters are in their 30s in Keep the Lights On, in their 60s in Love Is Strange, and in their early teens in Little Men.
After his father, Max, passes away, Brian (Greg Kinnear, never better) assumes the lease on his Brooklyn walk-up. That leads his artistic son, Jake (Theo Taplitz, a gently sympathetic presence) to the boisterous Tony (Michael Barbieri), an aspiring Al Pacino whose Chilean-born mother, Leonor (Gloria's Paulina García), runs a dress shop out of the storefront. Different temperaments aside, the boys form an instant bond over comic books and video games.
If Jake's mother, Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), makes a good living as a therapist, Brian, a struggling actor, has never pulled his weight. They hope the rent they collect on Leonor's shop will solve their problems. But when they raise the rent to market level, she balks—Max had always cut her a deal. Both sides refuse to compromise, leading to a battle in which the hapless kids become ensnared.
In the end, this terrific film plays like a sequel to Hal Ashby's 1970 debut, The Landlord, in which Beau Bridges's trust-fund kid tangled with the African American tenants of a Park Slope tenement. He assumed gentrification would be easy, but it never is—not least for the most vulnerable among us.