April 20, 2006
One of the genuine surprises to be released in 2005 was Little Manhattan, a charming, precious (without overdoing it) Woody Allen-esque ode to New York City for the elementary school set. It asks that age old question do girls mature faster than boys and proceeds to tell the story of a relationship between a boy and girl from the his point-of-view. The film was given very limited release in theatres and is now out on DVD where it will hopefully find a wider audience.
Gabe (Hutcherson) is a ten-year-old boy who hates girls beyond that they-all-have-cooties stage and this is all because a girl named Rosemary (Ray) broke his heart. He takes us back a few weeks when his parents (Nixon and Whitford) were in the middle of a messy divorce. Gabe meets Rosemary when they are paired up in karate class and she excels while he gets his butt kicked. So, he ends up spending more time with her practicing in their spare time and before he knows it, he’s a smitten kitten.
They hang out in Central Park, he buys her Haagen Dazs ice cream (big spender!) and together they imagine a skyscraper turning into a pirate ship and a herd of sheep invading the park. But their relationship has an expiration date. In a few days Rosemary is destined to go off to camp and the pressure is on for Gabe to tell her how he really feels.
Gabe narrates the story with humourous observations about life and love a la Woody Allen, albeit from a ten-year-old’s perspective. He even speaks in a mock-jaded, seen-it-all-before tone which is quite amusing. The two leads are adorable and have a wonderful chemistry together. They are completely believable and refreshingly free of many of the annoying child actor tics. This is even more impressive when one realizes that Josh Hutcherson already had many acting gigs under his belt while Charlie Ray had no professional experience. Filmmakers Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett have a real knack with getting believable performances from the two kids.
It also nice to see veteran actors like Cynthia Nixon and Bradley Whitford play against type in this movie. Neither one is portrayed as the one at fault in the relationship – they’ve just drifted apart and become estranged as happens with some couples. Nixon and Whitford come across as sympathetic and are there for Gabe despite their differences.
Most of the action takes place on the Upper West Side and for anyone who’s lived there they will recognize familiar landmarks like the Beacon Theater, the Planetarium and Riverside Park. A lot of credit goes to filmmakers Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett for staying true to the geography of the city and shooting entirely on location as they provide a wonderful travelogue of the lesser known side of Broadway.
Little Manhattan doesn’t sugarcoat the messiness of relationships and the sometimes bittersweet nature of love no matter what the age. Even when things don’t work out, hopefully you learn from the experience and are a better person for having gone through it. Most kid’s movies are either too cutesy or try too hard to make them little J.D. Salinger-esque adults. This film gets it just right, treading the line between both, never having too much of one and always maintaining a balance.
There is an audio commentary by director Mark Levin and screenwriter Jennifer Flackett. They are a married couple that used to live in the Upper West Side where most of the film is set. They consciously wrote their movie in a way that it had to be shot in New York City and could not be doubled in Toronto as is commonly done. They talk about how the two lead child actors were cast – Hutcherson was the first person who read for his role and they wanted him right away while Ray had never acted before, answering an ad in a newspaper. Levin and Flackett acknowledge Woody Allen as an obvious influence on their movie, citing Annie Hall (1977) specifically, and also When Harry Met Sally (1989). This is a pleasant track as they take us through various aspects of their feature film debut.
There are four deleted scenes with optional commentary by Levin and Flackett. In one scene, Gabe tries to enlist a jazz singer to help him win back Rosemary and gets advice from a bartender instead. In another nice scene, Gabe has a vision of people on the street spontaneously breaking into a song and dance number that should have stayed in.
“Helmet Interview.” Levin and Flackett ran into interference from the studio that feared a backlash from Gabe riding around on his scooter without a helmet and so to appease them, they filmed all the scooter scenes with and without the helmet and this extra presents the helmet footage.
“Sheep Meadow Segment” takes us through the sequence where sheep magically appear in Central Park. Using live sheep proved problematic so they used CGI to create a herd that they could control. This featurette shows the various stages of the sequence.
“From Scout to Screen” takes us through the scouting of locations for several sequences to the final cut that is in the film.
Finally, there is the theatrical trailer.