Once in awhile, a film comes along that really catches you by surprise. Little Manhattan is one of those films. At first glance, it appears to be an updated take on a coming of age film that warms the cockles of your heart and leaves you smiling, but it’s actually a bit of a romantic comedy that is timeless and memorable.
Written by Jennifer Flackett and directed by Mark Levin, who are a married writing team whose most notable work was Wimbledon, the focus of Little Manhattan is Gabe (Josh Hutcherson, Kicking and Screaming), who also narrates the film. At first the film starts with Gabe, sitting on his bed with a broken arm, crying over someone named Rosemary (Charlie Ray, in her first acting role). From there, Gabe tells the story of how happy he was before he met Rosemary. He was a happy 10 year old boy, knowing that girls were gross and he was going to be a placekicker with the help of his father (played by Bradley Whitford, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). Gabe has known Rosemary for awhile, since kindergarten, but they bump into each other again in a karate class. Gabe suddenly realizes that he has feelings for Rosemary, and wants to be around her as much as possible.
With the film focusing on the friendship (and blossoming relationship) between Rosemary and Gabe, since Gabe is the main focus of the film, Hutcherson carries the film quite well and is a pleasant surprise to see. The film provides an appealing hook early on from various different areas and doesn’t really subside. With capable supporting cast performances by Whitford, Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) and of course, Ray in a great first performance, the film has an appeal to a wide variety of people. I immediately thought of my sisters-in-law as those that would like the film, and when I showed it to my wife, we both liked it as well, and there are plenty others out there.
Little Manhattan has the full frame and 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen treatment. So after watching the widescreen version of the film, I’ve gotta say I was very pleased with things, as they looked clear and sharp. Some of the CG effects do show because they didn’t come from ILM or WETA, but smaller budgets mean smaller budget houses.
While it’s nice to have a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, the soundtrack itself is rather uneven, with dialogue sounding muted. The overcompensating causes the special effects to come through louder than expected, so it’s a mild disappointment. There’s even some subwoofer activity when the iron wall comes down too.
While it’s a surprise to see some extras on this disc, the extras are pretty boring. Levin and Flackett contribute a commentary that touches on the usual stuff, like explaining particular shots or working with some of the cast. Details of the production are covered too, as the couple talk about how cool it was to walk to and from the set each day, and their thoughts on directing a film for the first time. While it was kind of nice (and they do spend some time watching the film), it’s pretty bland. There are also four deleted scenes with optional commentary that last about 7 minutes long, and they are in non-anamorphic and in Dolby 2.0 stereo. They are OK, but when put back into the final cut, would probably have been a little bit redundant. So good call, Flackett and Levin!
Little Manhattan really has something for everyone. There are some adult laughs, some kid laughs, and even some romantic touches in it for the women that watch it. While the absolute end scenes of the film were a little but disappointing and somewhat of a surprise at first, they fit more within the context of the film it’s understandable and enjoyable. A family film that everyone will enjoy.