First Love is the Hardest
If I said that "Little Manhattan" was a romantic comedy set in New York City I'm pretty sure you may have some ideas of what it will be about. I would put money on you thinking that maybe we have a routine troubled romance set against the back drop of familiar New York land marks. And you would be pretty much right except "Little Manhattan" is not some corny teenage or adult romance but the first love of a 10 year old boy and an 11 year old girl. But before thinking "Little Manhattan" is some kiddy flick it is far from it, it is intelligent fun for adults who can relive their first childhood foot steps into the troubled water of love.
Gabe (Josh Hutcherson - The Polar Express) is almost 11 and his life is pretty okay, his parents may be going through a divorce but his life is reasonably uncomplicated, riding his scooter around Manhattan without a care in the world. But then that changes when he decides to join a Karate class and he sees Rosemary (Charlie Ray), an 11 year old girl that he is known since Kindergarten and all of a sudden he has this strange feeling and that feeling is love. But as Gabe tries to understand this strange new feeling he wonders whether Rosemary feels the same way about him, whether he should kiss her or not as he goes though all the pains of first love.
I am sure most people can remember their first kiss, that innocent peck on the lips as a young child maybe in the playground during dinner break, or at a birthday party. But it's not just the first kiss you remember, it is the whole thing, the plucking up the courage to kiss, the worrying after that the girl you like may not like you back, the sweet acknowledgement of holding hands and then the gut wrenching heart ache when it's all over, the feeling of hurt which in limited vocabulary comes out as hate. Basically what writer Jennifer Flackett and director Mark Levin have done is bring that first experience to the screen as we watch in the space of 2 and a half weeks Gabe fall for Rosemary and go through the emotional ringer which is love.
Now with "Little Manhattan" being about that first childhood love it could easily have ended up some sappy little kid's film but that is far from the truth as this is a surprisingly intelligent movie. The whole look at childhood, the divide between boys and girls is so perfectly spot on and amusing, especially when it comes to a shockingly fun scene surrounding Cooties. But then this look at childhood has an adult angle with intelligent writing as we go through the ringer with Gabe, remembering are own first romantic steps as he takes his. The almost neurosis of whether Rosemary is interested in him or not is brilliant but then you have the cuteness of Gabe almost beating himself up when he chickens out of kissing her, riding past where she lives over and over again, it is all so very true.
The irony of it is, is that whilst "Little Manhattan" is a wonderful look at childhood love it is a look at love full stop as in the space of two and a half weeks Gabe experiences it all from excitement to heart break. I can't say it enough as this is such an intelligent movie full of spot on dialogue that this could be a look at romance from any age, just re-enacted via children and it works. Plus any movie which has young children spoofing the wedding scene from "The Graduate" is certainly playing to an adult audience
Now as for the acting well it's sort of amusing that here we have a young Josh Hutcherson as Gabe delivering not just a child in love but a performance of a professional. But Hutcherson's performance is as much as what we watch him do, the way he is nervous, as what we hear because his narration is wickedly funny full of insightful, adult emotions. But whilst Hutcherson is the star Charlie Ray is perfect as Rosemary, underplaying everything in a very natural way.
What this all boils down to is that "Little Manhattan" maybe a romantic comedy starring children but it is a movie for adults who can watch and remember their first steps on the romantic roller coaster. It is clever, funny, cute as well as touching and worth more than one watch.