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  Little Manhattan young hearts run free
Year: 2005
Director: Mark Levin, Jennifer Flackett
Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Charlie Ray, Bradley Whitford, Cynthia Nixon, Willie Garson, Tonye Patano, J. Kyle Manzay, Josh Pais, John Dossett, Talia Balsam, Jonah Meyerson, Michael Bush, Brian W. Aguiar, Nick Cubbler, Anthony Laflamme
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Gabe (Josh Hutcherson) is your average 10 ¾ year old boy. Good at sports, likes hanging out with his friends, and avoids girls like the plague. Until he meets 11 year old Rosemary (Charlie Ray), a former kindergarten mate, in karate class and falls head over heels, hopelessly in love. Completely confused over his strange, new feelings and with the awkward divorce between his loving parents, Adam (Bradley Whitford) and Leslie (Cynthia Nixon), Gabe experiences the thrill, heartbreak, and giddy delights of being in love for the first time.

Jaded with typical, Hollywood rom-coms? Watch this whip-smart and sassy children’s film and see how a great love story should be done. Thoughtful, honest and thoroughly engaging, Little Manhattan has been called Woody Allen for kids by some, but the warmth, wit and wisdom on display are closer to Eric Rohmer or the unsentimental tenderness of François Truffaut. Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett punctuate the story with fantasies: a literal iron curtain coming down between boys and girls, billboards that show Gabe’s thoughts, a map of New York comes to life, a skyscraper transforms into a flying, pirate ship; but what impresses most is his near-painfully accurate portrayal of first love.

Bright, funny and way better than him at karate, Rosemary sparks something in Gabe’s heart. The moment he sees her in a lavender dress, she leaps from being third prettiest girl in class to number one, the only one. Gabe’s heart won’t stop pounding. He gets clumsy and tongue-tied around her. Loiters outside her apartment all day waiting to see her. Then runs away when he does. Love becomes an embarrassing, agonising affliction (“A pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone”), going from frustrated attempts to ask Rosemary out (“It was easier scheduling Arab-Israeli peace talks than getting a date with this girl”), the ecstasy of being near her (“Smelling her smell - what is that, strawberry?”), to frenzied jealousy when a handsome rival (Anthony Laflamme) becomes her new sparring partner (“Great, my woman is sparring with Ashton Kutcher!”).

A dreamy, endless summer in picture perfect New York provides a wonderful backdrop enhanced by an outstanding soundtrack (Etta James, Elvis Presley, cool jazz, summery sixties pop). The ongoing banter between Gabe and Rosemary crackles like the classic rom-coms of yesteryear, with Hutcherson displaying the charisma that blazed even brighter in Bridge to Terabithia (2007) and sweet smiling Charlie Ray showing great promise. Their hesitant courtship moves from practicing karate alongside an imaginary martial arts expert dispensing advice (“Kiss her! Trust me, it’s not gross”), holding hands in a pastoral idyll, and kicking the crap out of a hulking bully, and never descends to the sappy or saccharine. Rosemary and Gabe’s first kiss is perfectly pitched - awkward, momentous, confusing, and over way too fast.

Warm, amiable support from The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford and Sex & the City’s Cynthia Nixon emboldens a crucial sub-plot. What Gabe learns from his parent’s mistakes rings true. Things we leave unsaid make the difference between a failed relationship and the greatest love of your life. The outstanding finale involves a dejected Rosemary at her aunt’s wedding, Gabe racing to be at her side, and a slow dance to Nat King Cole. It’s exhilarating, romantic and we know they’re meant to be together, except… Levin and Flackett aren’t peddling treacle here. He reminds us just how young these kids are. Little Manhattan doesn’t offer us a sugar-coated ending, but does impart a note of hope. You never forget your first love.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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