Little Manhattan (2005) / Romance-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for language
Running Time: 84 min.
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Charlie Ray, Bradley Whitford, Cynthia Wilson, Willie Garson, Tonye Patano
Director: Mark Levin
Screenplay: Jennifer Flackett
Little Manhattan is a cute and very pleasant romantic comedy (of sorts) revolving around ten year old kids just beginning to discover feelings of attraction and love for one another. Reminiscent at times to the whimsical, and sometimes cartoonishly presented, nostalgic style of “The Wonder Years”, the Peanuts TV specials, and The Sandlot, this is a gentle, unpretentious story of young love that will prove hard to resist for adults and children not still at an age where the opposite sex is “icky”.
Josh Hutcherson (Kicking & Screaming, Zathura) stars as Gabe, a Manhattanite boy just on the verge of turning 10, who is the only child of a mother and father that have been going through a slow-but-sure divorce. He spends a good deal of his time out with his other friends shooting hoops or roaming the neighborhood on his scooter, while his father (Whitford, Kate & Leopold) already has him pegged to be a future professional placekicker for the NFL, should he practice hard enough. Gabe hangs up the cleats for a bit to pursue karate classes, which is where he is reintroduced to a childhood friend, Rosemary (Ray). Gabe never thought much of her before, but as he gets to know her, his feelings for her begin to flourish, and these feelings affect him in ways that are literally making him sick to his stomach. It seems Gabe might be falling for her, but the uncertainty of her reciprocal feelings and her plans on going away to camp and another school has him doing whatever he can to contrive ways he can spend more time with her.
Written by the real-life married team of Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, both responsible for the
equally romantic Wimbledon, Little Manhattan seems more in keeping with their wide-eyed views of innocent love. It’s not terribly dissimilar to films one might find on more family-friendly TV stations, but that doesn’t make this an inferior film, as the young performances and moments of genuine feeling and humor are superior to some of the pandering offerings that the small screen dishes up on a regular basis.
With an introspective quality that you don’t usually find in family fare, this is a personal identification film, but readily iacccessible to anyone that has experienced a first love at a very young age. I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that Mark Levin also co-produced a similarly premised show featuring narration and childlike nostalgia in TV’s “The Wonder Years”. If there were one thing that “Wonder Years” did well that Little Manhattan could have benefited from, it would be using an adult for the narration instead of young Hutcherson, as he all-too-frequently makes references and allusions only an adult would ever make.
I suppose the ultimate irony of Little Manhattan is that the audience that would most directly identify
with the gist of the film, i.e. 10-year-old boys, are probably the ones that might, at least outwardly, have the hardest time admitting to like such heartfelt and romantic fare. Thinking back to my youth, I probably would have secretly appreciated catching this one if I could watch it by myself on my own terms, although I’d never admit to liking it to any of my friends or family. This is truly a feel-good movie in every sense of the word, and should win over all but the staunchest of grouches.
©2006 Vince Leo