Film Review: Crazy and Thief

There’s no reason in the world why this father’s loving tribute to his own two kids should be as uncannily riveting or delightful as it is.

This reviewer should start off with a confession: I love watching very little kids. Babies or an adorable child on a subway or in a playground transfix me with their uncensored, purely androgynous behavior and ever-alert sense of fun. To me, that’s entertainment, but the same cannot always be said for their onscreen counterparts. For every delightful little Peggy Ann Garner, Dickie Moore, Virginia Weidler or the uncannily gifted Anna Pacquin in The Piano, there are all those too self-conscious, way too precocious moppets like Shirley Temple, Margaret O’Brien or—shudder—Richard Nichols (worst child actor ever) to make you squirm in your seat.

Happily, the two real-life children of director Cory McAbee, seven-year-old Willa and two-year-old John, the stars of Crazy and Thief, fall into the former category, and they make his film a surprising, winsome charmer. There’s really no reason why a virtually plot-less notion about two little ones on their own and on the loose in New York should hold your attention, but they are so deliciously spontaneous and natural that it always does.

Through them, McAbee truly captures the oft-referenced “wonder of childhood” and the ineffable, magical power of young imagination, as the kids set out on a mission, fueled by Willa, who refers to herself here as “Crazy” and who has decided upon the random presence of the images of stars around them as signposts on their journey to find the Star of Bethlehem. In their carefree, blissfully isolated world, they encounter but two adults, “Cyclops” (Gregory Russell Cook), a scary guy in the park whose advice they nonetheless take before fleeing, and “Giant” (Graham Stanford), a handyman who buys them breakfast and tries to properly place them before they make their blithe escape.

McAbee marvelously sustains his dry vision of things as seen through the kids’ eyes, avoiding mawkishness at all costs and keeping his camera fluid and low. His film dances along, keeping up with their constant movement and unpredictable choices, using subtitles for little John’s formative language. (Yes, parents of toddlers must also be keen translators.) Willa is remarkably self-possessed and, somehow, even alone in the big city, she seems so preternaturally wise and capable that you never really fear for her or her brother as they gambol on the streets or underground. As for Johnny, a literal cherub, he is the film’s irresistible stealth bomb, a wonder of a performer, possessed of authentic rambunctiousness and impeccable, unexpected timing that is pure movie gold.