Awakening ‘Little Boy’ in Hearts
Eduardo Verástegui on making moving movies
Eduardo Verástegui has invested five years of his life into the new film Little Boy and hopes you will watch it, be inspired and tell others to go see it.
The producer and actor — a former singer and soap-opera star in Mexico — made a promise to himself and God a while ago to not be involved in projects that offend his Latino community, his family or his faith. So he co-founded a production company, Metanoia Films — of Bella acclaim.
With Little Boy, Verástegui wants viewers to be reminded of childlike innocence, which he says can fall asleep or be lost when growing up.
“With this movie, we can wake up the little boy that we all have in our hearts,” said Verástegui when I spoke to him recently over the phone.
Little Boy’s Lessons
The movie follows the quest of 8-year-old Pepper Busbee (Jakob Salvati) to bring back his best friend — his father — from fighting in World War II.
Short for his age, Pepper endures bullying from some of the town’s youth in the fictional O’Hare, Calif., but remains undaunted in his convictions.
The local Catholic pastor, Father Oliver (played by Tom Wilkinson), gives Pepper an “ancient list” — the corporal works on mercy — to make his faith more powerful, but with an added work of mercy: befriend Hashimoto, a local Japanese-American man persecuted by townies, including Pepper, for his nationality.
The priest tells the boy things won’t work if he has the least bit of hatred in him. The list then becomes the vehicle for Pepper’s mission.
The storytelling has the wonder of a boy, supported by superb acting, starting with newcomer Salvati, whom Verástegui called a “gift from heaven.”
Wilkinson, Emily Watson, Michael Rapaport and Ben Chaplin also lend their talents to the film, as do comedian Kevin James, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and David Henri.
Verástegui said that “everything has been a miracle in this movie since the beginning. When he read the script, he was “crying like a baby. I was moved; I was touched.”
He described the movie as an “American story with a universal message, filmed in Mexico with an international cast.”
“Something very powerful, in my opinion, came out,” he added.
San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, among other prominent Catholics, has endorsed the film — and Little Boy has a friend in Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, too.
“It’s just a wonderful story about family life and faith and the role of a parish priest, and all of this was very beautifully portrayed,” said Cardinal O’Malley in a video interview edited into a promo with clips from the movie.
“Art has a very important function to be able to teach people about life and teach values, and so when a film is made like this — that has such a beautiful message and done in such an artistic and appealing way — it provides a great service to the whole community.”
Verástegui, when he was recently in Rome, met Pope Francis and give him a Blu-Ray DVD of the Spanish version. He said he was grateful to receive a blessing from the Pope a week before the theatrical release (April 24).
“Everything that he stands for and what he has been saying and what he has been doing since he started his papacy is what the movie talks about,” the filmmaker said.
“Put love into action; use your talents to help others; make this world a better place; love; don’t lose hope; don’t lose faith.”
An innovative way that Little Boy has gained momentum is with “Theater Takeovers,” where an organization buys out an entire multiplex and provide tickets in mass to people who RSVP.
According to a widely circulated press release, this film had “takeovers” in 20 cities on April 23.
In the Boston area, more than 1,000 people showed up at a multiplex in Burlington. Primarily sponsored by the organization Sword & Spoon Group, the effort involved outreach to parishes and through social media.
“This kind of response is overwhelming,” said Cathy Fair, director of the affiliated Sword & Spoon Foundation.
“We thought it would be great if we could get a few hundred people here. This is incredible — this is just so affirming,” said Fair.
Fair said it is important that Hollywood knows there is a “hungry audience” for this type of movie so more of its kind will be made.
Voice of the Audience
In the movie’s opening weekend, it was shown on 1,045 theaters nationwide and ranked 13th in gross revenue revenue.
Paul Lauer, the founder and CEO of Motive Marketing, a group that promoted Little Boy through many of the theater takeovers, said the group and the production company were “really pleased with how we did in the markets where we had a lot of grassroots support,” and the movie ranked No. 1 in many markets with much support.
“I’m confident that millions of people are going to see this film, regardless of where they see it,” said Lauer.
Little Boy also faces unfavorable reviews from movie critics, but as Lauer said, “The only voice louder than the critics’ voice is the audience.”
The popular Rotten Tomatoes aggregate website rated it below 20%. However, the same website also said 88% of the audience liked it.
Lauer said this is the widest gap ever on Rotten Tomatoes between critics and audiences.
Joie Dillon of Peabody, Mass., enjoyed the film when she saw it as the Burlington event.
“This is the first movie that I’ve ever cried for,” said 15-year-old Dillon.
“I’m usually not very emotional over movies — like ever. But this one: It happened to make me cry, for some reason.”
Verástegui is hoping that many more will be moved — and that when people walk away from Little Boy they will be inspired to love and forgive more, complain less and be “inspired to do great things with their lives.”