|Little Manhattan (2005)
Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Charlie Hay, Bradley Whitford, Cynthia Nixon, Willie Garson
Director: Mark Levin
All men have stories of their first love, and here is mine, so let it be told: I was nine years old, her name was Kathy Hawbaker, and she lived a street over from me. She made me feel funny in my tummy whenever I looked at her, so, after having received all the information on love I was sure I was ever going to need courtesy of movies, TV, and top-40 song lyrics, I decided to make a romantic gesture on Valentine's Day. I bought a card and a box of candy – both of which ended up being far smaller than I'd originally planned, since my bemused mother assured me it was the thought that counted – and took the suddenly-interminable stroll from my house to Kathy's. I knocked, her dad answered, and then he called to her. She came up to the screen door and I presented her with her gifts, somehow getting out the words, “These are for you.” She opened the door and, as she took the card and candy, uttered those three words that every man longs to hear:
“Oh, my cat!”
Her cat shot past my ankles, and Kathy, with card and candy in hand, ran past me and retrieved the feline from the yard. She picked up the beast, ran back past me, went inside, and closed the door behind her. I stood dazed for a moment, then, upon the realization that my first romantic gesture had come to a decidedly anticlimactic end, I walked home sobbing, and, upon coming through my own front door, then proceeded to take as much comfort as my mother was willing to offer. So, therefore, I'm sympathetic to the plight of 10-year-old Gabe (played by Josh Hutcherson), whose tale of the blossoming of first romance with an older woman – the 11-year-old Rosemary (Charlie Ray) – is the subject of “Little Manhattan.”
“Little Manhattan” was directed by Mark Levin and written by Jennifer Flackett; they're a husband and wife team who have previously collaborated on, among other things, the script for the tennis-based romantic comedy “Wimbledon.” That flick, however, was ultimately just another love story. “Little Manhattan” is a near-perfect portrayal of what happens when boy meets girl, and the boy suddenly realizes that, holy crap, this girl is a GIRL! Actually, Gabe has known Rosemary since they were in kindergarten together, but somewhere around first grade, the iron curtain came down between boys and girls, and each went off to their respective side of the playground. When Rosemary shows up in his karate class, however, Gabe quickly becomes aware of a disconcerting sensation in the pit of his stomach when he looks at her…and before he knows it, he finds himself riding his scooter past her apartment building, hoping to catch a glance of her if she steps outside, yet not having any idea what he's going to do or say if she does.
Make no mistake, though: this is the boy's side of the story. And while, like “High Fidelity,” the details prove educational for both genders, any movie which starts off by offering a treatise on the danger of cooties and follows it up by including a projectile vomiting scene that's right up there the pie-eating contest in “Stand By Me”… yeah, it's definitely intended to grab the guys from the get-go. Thing is, since it's the only scene of its type in the film, it's clearly only here for one purpose: to trick pre-teen boys into getting interested in the film. And it will work. By the time they realize the film isn't going to be a series of puking and farting jokes, they'll already be sucked into the story. And although it's a perfect education for young lads, their parents will enjoy a clever reference to “The Graduate” and the use of “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” on the soundtrack, as well as a brief scene where Gabe impresses Rosemary with his knowledge of a piece of Beatles trivia.
Speaking of parents, Gabe's are played by Bradley Whitford from “The West Wing” and Cynthia Nixon from “Sex & the City,” with the doorman at their building played by Nixon's former co-star, Willie Garson. While the trio – the only “names” in the picture – do exemplary jobs, the story is all about Gabe and Rosemary, and the film never forgets that. Guys, you may find that you see way too much of yourself as you remember how you, too, had to offer fake excuses to your friends so you didn't have to admit that you wanted to hang out with a girl rather than play ball. And when Gabe finds himself totally unprepared for the emotional turmoil he experiences when he can't express what he's feeling for Rosemary, don't be surprised if you find yourself squirming in your seat.
How does the film end? Like I'm going to reveal that. But, ultimately, it doesn't matter whether Gabe and Rosemary find true happiness together. That's not the point of “Little Manhattan.” It's a recreation of the sheer bliss and the excruciating uncertainty that first love provides, and its accuracy is remarkable. It might have snuck in and out of theaters without fanfare, but don't miss an opportunity to catch it now that it's on DVD.
Director Mark Levin and screenwriter Jennifer Flackett provide feature-length audio commentary; there's also a behind-the-scenes documentary on scouting places to film in and around Central Park, where many of the movie's crucial scenes take place, and one on how the filmmakers were able to put sheep into the park's Sheep Meadow. Another brief doc that proves particularly interesting is where Levin and Flackett discuss that the studio didn't like Gabe riding his scooter without a helmet, so they did two takes of every scooter-riding scene: one with helmet, one without. (In the end, he went sans helmet.)