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Little Manhattan
Click for full sized poster

Little Manhattan

Starring Josh Hutcherson, Bradley Whitford, Cynthia Nixon and Charlotte Ray
Screenplay by Jennifer Flackett
Directed by Mark Levin

IN SHORT: Best of the Year (so far). [Rated PG for mild thematic elements, language and brief action. 84 minutes]

Cutting right to the chase: Little Manhattan is a story of first love. We'll exempt teens and socially deprived (very) young adults from the potential audience for this BOTY flick and we'll yell at all the men to stay in their seats. Little Manhattan is not a chick flick in anything close to the traditional sense nor is it "romantic" to the point that any man will curl up in his theater seat and swear to make his date sit through the next Steven Seagal punchfest. For reasons that should be apparent once you wade through what follows, the farther you are from that first love, the better this film feels.

In his ever expanding world, ten and three quarters years old Gabe Burton (Josh Hutcherson) is, for most of the time, a decidedly happy youngster. He's decidedly happy because his parents, father (Bradley Whitford) and mother (Cynthia Nixon), are separating. Thanks to the economics of life in New York, they still share the same apartment and have, to some extent, started the process of moving on. That means dating. Not fun and definitely confusing for any kidlet. Because of some trouble with a local bully, Gabe begins karate classes. In his class is one Rosemary Telesco (Charlie Ray), who he last saw in kindergarten. Rosemary's parents are fabulously wealthy, and equally busy and therefore invisible, TV writer/producers. Rosemary's attendance at karate class is just another piece of her carefully scheduled life. That's what some parents do in the Big City. They treat their kids as equals. Run their lives by palm pilot or filofax or some other schedule. Let the help look after the kids.

Gabe hasn't seen Rosemary for years. The parents vaguely remember her. A friendship -- well, at karate school it really means a punch out -- begins. Before he knows it, Gabe is spending a lot of time with Rosemary. At class. In the park. Razor scooting through the streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Gabe is the one who has the "big" problems that he needs to confide. Rosemary is the one who comes up with potential solutions. Nothing sexual about that at all. Nothing that we're going to spill about the plot either for Little Manhattan is so well written and so story driven that giving you more than the basics will spoil the fun.

Well, OK, there is a First Kiss involved but that's as far as we'll go.

In the past we have planted for painful flicks that try to use kids to analyze their parents' world. Little Manhattan doesn't go anywhere near this route thanks to a script that is as grounded in real world perceptions as you can get. How the kids try to solve problems not of their own making is clever and entertaining; it will touch the hearts of anyone with a couple of years of emotional luggage. It also shows New York in a beautiful light.

More to the point, hanging this story on the backs of two child actors is about as dangerous as a production can get. Charlie Ray is a first timer. Josh Hutcherson has enough TV and film roles in his credits that he delivers the emotional swings of his character with all the skill of any grown actor. While Whitford and Nixon are easily recognized from their own work, this is the kidlet world we see. More to the point, Little Manhattan is built on a script that unlocks all the similar memories of any adult's first love. No violins. Nothing smarmy. Lots of emotional peaks and valleys and across the board terrific performances.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Little Manhattan, he would have paid . . .


Highly recommended. The perfect ten, by our system, means we'd see the film twice. We're halfway through a week with close to ten screenings and we're just too tired to do more than get on the phone to call everyone we know to recommend the film.

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