Genre: Coming of Age Romance/Comedy
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