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A Sweet, Loveable Gem of a Movie
on 2 July 2007
Probably the sweetest motion picture of 2006 and definitely the best family-targeted movie of last year, "Little Manhattan" is a lovel little romantic comedy for pre-teens and older audiences who are children at heart. Switching masterfully between broad comedy, beautiful first love story, intense drama and reminding audiences of television show "The Wonder Years", which director Mark Levin was a co-director on, "Little Manhattan" qualifies as one of the most enchanting pictures of the year. That trash like 2005's "Cheaper by the Dozen 2", 2006's "Eight Below" and 2007's "Material Girls" can offer half-baked romances as sub-plots while the joyous "Little Manhattan" offers one of more realism and honesty is slightly sickening. That they have all achieved more viewers than this little gem is more than slightly sickening, it's a disgrace. Truth be told, this is one of the best family releases of recent times.
Gabe (Josh Hutcherson) is a carefree pre-teen boy who enjoys hanging out with his guy friends on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and detests any contact with the opposite sex, who he sees as the most icky things in existance. That all changes, however, when he starts taking karate lessons and teams up with Rosemary (Charlie Ray), a girl he has known all his life but ignored since first-grade because of the male/female divide that rapidly appeared during that time. As Rosemary and Gabe's friendship grows, Gabe is taken aback when he starts discovering feelings that he never knew existed. Far from loathing his female partner, he begins to fall in love with her.
By putting a child performer front and centre throughout, director Mark Levin's "Little Manhattan" is reliant on Josh Hutcherson's performance. Lucky then, that Hutcherson is the best child actor working today. In the lead role, Hutcherson elevates the material and plays the part of Gabe with such realism and humanity that it is easy to see him becoming a major acting star in his adulthood. Hutcherson conveys emotion and expression in a way uncanny for an actor his age and "Little Manhattan" is one of his finest performances. Opposite him in a lesser but highly significant part as love interest Rosemary is Charlie Ray. Similarly to Hutcherson, Ray plays her character wonderfully and conveys the sort of emotion and feeling that is a rarity with an actress her age. Whether Ray is Hutcherson's equal as an actress is another thing, although there's little to suggest that she isn't anywhere near.
In the two main supporting roles, Bradley Whitford and Cynthia Nixon are wonderful. Breathing life into Gabe's disconnected parents, who are seeking a divorce but remain living in the same house, the two invaluably make their respective parts more than the sideshows they could have been. Of course, the film is all about Gabe's first romantic relationship, but their less-than-romantic pairing is a fitting counterweight, made more obvious by their adept performances. Beyond these four primary roles, few characters are built-upon enough to warrant mention, benefitting the movie by not attempting to cover a vaster scope than it need.
Screenwriter Jennifer Flackett has done an excellent job at scripting an affectionate, smart screenplay detailing the trials and tribulations of a tween that avoids emotional manipulation and cheesiness in a way that is unprecedented. "Little Manhattan" may feature numerous intentionally over-the-top fantasy segments, but never are they annoying nor do they induce bad laughs. That director Mark Levin worked on the similar "The Wonder Years" no doubt helps greatly. As directed by him "Little Manhattan" is a powerful motion picture that one cannot help but fall in love with.
"Little Manhattan" doesn't shy away from difficult answers and embraces harsh reality in a way that only helps the viewer to enjoy it more. All too often, family targeted romantic comedies -- and even adult-targeted genre pics -- talk down to audiences and offer up cheap, feel good endings that succeed only in showing disdain for the audience. "Little Manhattan" is not one of those pictures. Honest and heartbreaking but never bleak as a result, this movie does close with a sentiment that should leave a smile on the viewer's face. That the movie promises that things can someday work out, even if they don't when you originally want them to, is slightly naive but never offputting. As is, it is the right note on which to end the movie.
If there is any justice, more people will buy the DVD release of "Little Manhattan" than went to see it in the cinema. The fact is, the cinema release and lack of promotion that this movie was afforded is disgraceful. This is one of the smartest, most beautiful famil releases of the past few years and deserves a wider audience. One can only hope that word-of-mouth brings this gem more success.