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Friday Film Review: Little Manhattan

Friday Film Review: Little Manhattan

Little Manhattan (2005)

Genre: Coming of Age Romance/Comedy

Grade: B

I’ll be honest and say I took a chance on this one. I didn’t recognize any of the actors or the director and frankly given the subject matter, it could have turned out to be a disaster. But “Little Manhattan” ended up sneaking under my guard and winning me over. Here’s fair warning that the ending isn’t HEA or even HFN but, jeez, we are talking two kids who are only 10 ¾ and 11 years old. The film also asks the question – “Which gender matures more quickly – boys or girls?”

“Set against the backdrop of the Big Apple, director Mark Levin’s quirky tale of first love puts the spotlight on pint-sized passion as young urbanites Gabe (Josh Hutcherson) and Rosemary (Charlie Ray) explore their budding emotions. And there’s one thing that makes them perfect for each other: They’re both in the fifth grade.”

As I said, I knew nothing about this film before watching it and relied on the high ratings for it at Netflix and the IMDB. And they didn’t steer me wrong. The film is told from the POV of Gabe and begins where most 10-11 year olds still are emotionally: there’s (almost literally) an iron wall between boys and girls and the opposite sex will give you cooties if they touch you. And yet, suddenly, maybe there’s more to girls than giggly females who like to go dress shopping? Gabe might still view shopping with skepticism – after all, his mother has also conned him before with the promise that “it’ll only take 5 minutes” and they’ll be out of there – but when he sees Rosemary in the flower girl dress she’s going to wear in her aunt’s wedding, something shifts inside and he sees her again for the first time. Though they’ve known each other since kindergarden, and even played together as very young children, now he starts to experience the delightfully and scary sensation of being in love for the first time.

I think the movie captures first love perfectly. It’s amazing, it’s frightening, it’s fun, it’s terribly awkward and a million things can go right or wrong all at once. Do you say anything or keep quiet? Should you call her or wait? What do you do if she’s better at karate than you are? Are you dressed right for a night out with her parents and, oh please, don’t let your parents want to wait with you for her parents to arrive to pick you up. Why is your hand sweating as you reach for hers and, most importantly, to kiss or not to kiss? This is all about (mainly) Gabe and Rosemary beginning to learn to chart their way through the shoals and pitfalls of dating. The ending could have settled for mushy or predictable but instead goes for something slightly different. And remember the other issue being explored here. Is Gabe more mature in his willingness to tell Rosemary how he feels or is she when she admits to being confused and unsure? Regardless, I think the directors strike the right note in leaving things at the first love stage. With a light touch, the film finishes with Gabe feeling he’ll always remember his first love regardless of who he might love in the future.

All that being said, there are things that might not ring true. Some of the things that Gabe thinks might seem a little precocious and more believable coming from an older kid. He also tends to over analyze things and thus this might work better for adults to watch and remember how they were at this age. Yet the good here far outweighs the…maybe not quite so good. The sound track is great and this is the first film that actually makes me want to visit NYC where it was entirely filmed. The city – or the parts of it shown here – are gorgeous and even without the information in the commentary it’s obvious that the director/screenwriters love it and know it well. I also enjoyed how they included several elements from the city in one scene during which Gabe “sees” all the things he wishes he’d said to Rosemary which are shown in the form of theater marquees, graffiti, and advertising on buses. It definitely seems like a New York touch to the story. And though Gabe and Rosemary might not end up together, there is the possibility of another HEA here for Gabe’s parents who have been on the verge of divorce but might be pulled back from it after Gabe’s father (Bradley Whitford) decides to use some of the advice he gives Gabe to woo back his (still) wife Leslie (Cynthia Nixen).

Cute, sweet, or quirky are all words that could describe the film but it’s an innocent version of them rather than an overdone corny one. Hutcherson and Ray are both darling and fabulous in their roles. It’s hard to believe that this was Ray’s first movie. Oh, and watch for their karate instructor, too. He’s extremely phwoar worthy. This is also a movie that can entertain several generations of viewers since it’s relatively free of swear words or sex. And it just might take adults back to their own childhood of the awkward beginnings of the exploration of love. B


Friday Film Review: Geordie

Friday Film Review: Geordie

Geordie (1955) (aka Wee Geordie)
Genre: sweet romance/athletics
Grade: sentimental B

“Come away wee Geordie!”

Marianne McA mentioned this film in the comments on “I Know Where I’m Going” as one she fondly remembered. I checked into it then but at the time it was unavailable to me to watch and, frankly, I sort of forgot about it since then until I revisited that review. Following up, I discovered that it has since been released on DVD and is a rental at Netflix. Now I can say I see what she sees in it.

Wee Geordie Mac Taggart (Bill Travers of “Born Free” fame) is a small boy growing up in the glens of Highland Scotland. Tired of comments on his height – or lack of it – he sees an advert in the evening paper his father is reading one night and sends off for the body building kit being sold by Henry Samson (Francis De Wolff). Faithfully following the program of exercises and clean living – No Smoking. No Drinking – over the years he grows into a gentle giant of a lad. Working with his gamekeeper father (Jameson Clark) for the local Laird (Alastair Sim) his ambitions are only to finish the masters course devised by Samson and court his childhood friend Jean (Norah Gorsen).

Over the years, Geordie and Samson have developed a correspondence friendship and when Samson suggests that Geordie progress further by doing something suited to his Scottish nationality (the Scots seem to excel at throwing things, says Samson) Geordie begins haphazardly throwing the hammer. After a near miss with the Laird – and then the Vicar – they decide to help him train and then – with the inadvertent help of Jean – get him to enter the Highland Games where Jean’s encouragement propels him to victory. This doesn’t escape the eyes of the British Olympic committee and after right much encouragement and persuasion he’s finally talked into leaving the glen, joining the team and sailing for Melbourne.

Adventures befall Geordie along the way but does he have it in him to care enough about the competition to give it his best? Will he return to the glen the same unassuming, simple lad as he left it? And can he finally win Jean for his own when he does?

This movie is a giant love letter to the Scottish Highlands. Or the 1950s English ideal of them since it was filmed at Shepperton Studios. Someone at Netflix described it as “Brigadoon meets bodybuilding” and they’re not too far off. No singing here but plenty of “ochs,” bagpipe music, kilts – mainly at the Highland Games and worn by Geordie (he promised his mother and the kilt was his father’s), hills and dogs. The scene outside the Kirk during Geordie’s father’s funeral is enough to make a dog lover smile. By the end of the film, I wanted to pack up my bags and board the next plane to Scotland. Though I know not to let any man call me “hen” once I get there. I did notice a few less than sly digs at supposed Scottish penny pinching thrown in at the beginning and the English selection committee members had to remind each other to urge Geordie to go along in order to win for Scotland rather than throw for England. There are no subtitles on the region 1 DVD I watched so turn up the volume and be prepared to hit rewind a few times.

Bill Travers pretty much gets you to believe that he’s the simple, no fuss country lad he portrays. I had to keep reminding myself that people would have been more naive then, especially if they’d been no farther than Perth before – and didn’t really like Perth. Norah Gensen is a lovely down to earth no nonsense lassie whose cheers spur him on despite the fact that she doesn’t think much of his body building courses and not much more about his victory in Melbourne regardless of the braw hat he brings her and uses to help win his case and get back in her good graces.

But the person who I think steals every scene he’s in is the great Alastair Sim with his lovely diction and sweet dithery performance as the Laird. His attempt at hammer throwing is worth watching the movie for all by itself. Another lovely bit part is played by Miles Malleson – whom some might remember as Reverend Chasuble from my favorite version of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

“Geordie” is definitely a feel good movie and if anything like it took place in real life, during Olympic Games coverage, US TV execs would be all over it to milk it of every bit of treacley, heart warming goodness. I wish the segments of Geordie growing up had been longer but since the movie is fairly short, it’s understandable that they weren’t. I found the movie sweet and charming and am glad I finally got a chance to check it out.