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20th Century Fox presents
Little Manhattan (2005)

"Rosemary wasn't the prettiest girl in our class; that was Madison Shaw. And she wasn't the second prettiest, either. That was Vanessa Miur. No, Rosemary was third. But boy, could that girl do karate."
- Gabe (Josh Hutcherson)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: April 02, 2006

Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Charlie Ray
Other Stars: Bradley Whitford, Cynthia Nixon
Director: Mark Levin

MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements, language, and brief action
Run Time: 01h:30m:19s
Release Date: April 04, 2006
UPC: 024543224396
Genre: romantic comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-B+B C-

DVD Review

My grade school crushes never turned out all that well. I foolishly tended to fall for the popular girls, who rightly realized that I was a dork. (Not anymore, though, ladies. Call me!) (Does that sound too desperate? Uh oh, better move on.) Surprising, then, that I really enjoyed Little Manhattan, which explores young romance in agonizing detail. I'd say time has healed all wounds, but I'd be kidding myself. Those scars are deep, and permanent.

Gabe (Josh Hutcherson) is a normal 10-year-old boy who'd rather spend his afternoons playing basketball with the guys and cruising around "Little Manhattan" (the nine square city blocks he's allowed to explore on his scooter) than talking to girls (who, it seems, are gross). But then he signs up for karate class and gets paired up with Rosemary (Charlie Ray). He's actually known her since kindergarten, but starts to see her in a whole new light once she starts beating him up regularly. Soon, he'll be near obsessed, basketball forgotten, taking great joy in every small smile and running to the bathroom with a nervous stomach with every mixed signal from Charlie.

Gabe narrates his story, giving us a subjective look at the action as he agonizes over awkward moments, which replay again and again, and stages elaborate fantasy sequences. I think the aim is for Annie Hall, but the cartoonish gags—boys infected with "cooties" spraying vomit everywhere, giant billboards that spell out Gabe's thoughts, a karate fight against a romantic rival—come off more Ally McBeal. Things go more smoothly when the boy's inner monologue reveals his constant doubts and crushing insecurities, though he tends to talk like a self-aware sit-com kid. I take issue with a 10-year-old telling himself "You'll die alone!" I was at least 14 before I started worrying about that. He's got a lot of big tirades about how love is nothing but pain, supposedly illustrated by his parents, played by Cynthia Nixon and Bradley Whitford, who are in the process of getting a divorce but still living together, but it's hard to see why he's so bitter, since they seem to be the happiest divorced couple in the world.

But the movie gets the details right. Rosemary's parents take the kids to a show and Gabe has to work up the courage try and hold the girl's hand. He finally does, but instantly starts noticing how efficient his palms are at producing sweat. There's a first kiss scene that is genuine, meaning painful and awkward, and when things start to go south for the couple later on (after Rosemary is given a dreamy new sparring partner in karate class and Gabe gets jealous) and Gabe collapses in tears on his mother's shoulder, I didn't know whether to empathize or cringe in embarrassment (I opted for both).

Cynthia Nixon and Bradley Whitford bring marquee value and fine performances to underwritten roles, though their characters are the film's weak point, thanks to a cheesy ending that's pure wish fulfillment. But it's Josh Hutcherson, best known for the underrated Zathura earlier this year, that carries the film. He's got a lot of charisma without seeming too packaged, and he makes Gabe very likable. Newcomer Charlie Ray brings a certain sweetness to Rosemary ("the third prettiest girl in school," according to Gabe), but because we see her through Gabe's eyes, she's a bit limited.

It's no surprise that director Mark Levin was once a producer on The Wonder Years, as Little Manhattan apes that show's sun-drenched nostalgia, but it works. The dream sequences are sometimes jarring, yes, but the movie really gets inside Gabe's head, drawing on those scary first love experiences everyone can relate to. The screenplay is credited to Levin's wife, Jennifer Flackett, also a sit-com veteran.

Unevenness aside, Little Manhattan is a big-hearted film that's hard to dislike.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: This fine-looking, sunny 2.35:1 transfer features bright colors and decent detail. The image is slightly soft, perhaps, but it looks pretty good. I noticed no excesive grain or edge enhancement. There is also a comparable full-frame transfer on the opposite side of the disc.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This is your standard romantic comedy mix, front-heavy, with little surround action other than subtle support for the score and some atmospheric effects.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Deleted Scenes
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director/co-writer Mark Levin and co-writer Jennifer Flackett
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Continuing an annoying new trend, Fox has split the extras between the widescreen and full-frame sides. Both versions include an audio commentary with director/co-writer Mark Levin and co-writer Jennifer Flackett, the husband and wife creative team behind Little Manhattan. They provide a fairly entertaining discussion of the shoot, explaining that this was a project they'd hoped to do for quite some time.

The widescreen side also includes the trailer and a handful of deleted scenes, though none too significant. One, Helmet Stuff, is simply alternate takes of scenes of Gabe riding his scooter, but this time wearing a helmet. Levin and Flackett provide an alternate commentary track for these scenes. The full-frame side adds two featurettes. The four-minute Sheep Meadow Sequence piece discusses one of Gabe's fantasy sequences, while From Scout to Screen contrasts footage from location scouts with scenes from the finished film. There's also a trailer for the feature and some ads for other family titles from Fox.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

I never thought anything could make me nostalgic for my scarring memories of awful grade school romances, but Little Manhattan did the trick. It's a little bit sit-com, and I imagine it plays a lot better on DVD than it did in theaters, but nonetheless, it's a charming film.


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