Dir. Mark Levin. U.S.A.  2005.

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Once you have gotten past the “icky” factor of a love affair between 11-year-olds and have said “yeah, right” twenty five times, you might enjoy the 2005 romantic comedy for children, Little Manhattan, a Woody Allen-esque love letter to New York without the small-minded cynicism. Directed by Mark Levin, Producer of the TV show “The Wonder Years,” the film is set in the Upper West Side of Manhattan between Central Park and Riverside Drive where all the buildings have a doorman or an elevator man (or both) (the closest look I ever got to this part of the city was from a window on the Fifth Avenue bus).

Almost 11-year-old Gabe (Josh Hutcherson) is a fifth grader who lives with his divorcing parents, father Adam (Bradley Whitford) and mother Leslie (Cynthia Nixon). Though they are legally separated, they are living together until their divorce becomes final. Gabe, who also acts as the narrator, rides around the neighborhood (limited by his parents to a nine-block radius) on his scooter, plays basketball in the school yard, and is being taught to be a football place kicker by his father. To further the plot (and for no other reason), Gabe decides to take a karate class and, guess what, also taking the class is Rosemary Telesco (Charlie Ray), a girl he has known since Kindergarten and the film's “love interest,” what a coincidence.

Although she is only a few months older than him, Rosemary has the air of confidence of a teenager with a developing swagger. She also has developed a skill at karate that eludes Gabe (she is the first one to get a yellow belt). Now that they are in karate together, Gabe sees Rosemary in a new and different light, and is confused by these strange feelings. His heart beats faster, he begins sweating, and stumbles over his words. Naturally, the two are paired up as karate partners and she invites him to her house so they can practice together. Befitting her parent's “station” in life, Rosemary barely has time to see Gabe with all her tap dancing lessons, cello practice, and preparations to be a flower girl at an upcoming family wedding.

Gabe knows jealousy for the first time, however, when another student becomes Rosemary's karate partner.  To make matters worse, when Rosemary tells him she is going away to camp for a few weeks and plans on enrolling in a private school, his mood shifts to despair (and an unconvincing crying jag). Little Manhattan is a sweet and enjoyable film without any guile that is about the parents almost as much as the children and what happens in a relationship when one of the spouses holds back from expressing their feelings. While the film is a sincere attempt to depict a young child's first love, the script by Jennifer Flackett has a TV sitcom feel to it and I did not have the experience of watching actual children in the process of discovering something new about themselves.



Howard Schumann

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