×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Little Manhattan

The magical touch required to construct a romantic comedy around a 10-year-old boy's first love is simply beyond this puzzling ode to Manhattan tourism. Resting almost entirely on the shoulders of its young leads, both they and the pic lack the sparkle to sustain what seeks to be a whimsical premise but proves ponderous instead.

With:
Gabe - Josh Hutcherson Adam - Bradley Whitford Leslie - Cynthia Nixon Rosemary - Charlie Ray Ralph - Willie Garson

The magical touch required to construct a romantic comedy around a 10-year-old boy’s first love is simply beyond this puzzling ode to Manhattan tourism. Resting almost entirely on the shoulders of its young leads, both they and the pic lack the sparkle to sustain what seeks to be a whimsical premise but, except for a few moments, proves ponderous instead. Premiering in New York before a broader release next month, theatrical playdates should be brief before pic bicycles off to youth-targeting basic-cable networks, which is where “Little Manhattan” belonged in the first place.

Real-life husband-and-wife tandem Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin wrote and directed, respectively, and while they give it the old grade-school try, they’re virtually undone from the get-go.

For starters, the pervasive adult-sounding narration handed to fifth-grader Gabe (Josh Hutcherson) might have looked cute on the page, but even with his Linus voice the language and tone don’t feel natural. The character is so young that the sitcom-style lines — like “It’s easier scheduling Arab-Israeli peace talks than making a date with this girl” or “I loathed myself for feeling like I did” — are not just off-kilter but vaguely creepy.

Gabe’s a pretty ordinary kid in a dysfunctional situation. His parents (Bradley Whitford and Cynthia Nixon, at less than half-speed) are headed toward divorce but still awkwardly sharing the same apartment, even though mom has decided it’s time to start dating.

Dad, on the other hand, inspired by Tiger Woods, hopes to retire by turning Gabe into an NFL-caliber football kicker. Unfortunately, Gabe opts for karate classes, where he encounters Rosemary (Charlie Ray, in her acting debut). After a few fast falls, he realizes there’s something strange and new about his feelings for her, prompting a lot of soul-searching about the cruelty and mysteries of love.

Even the French don’t usually fall this hard, this fast, this young, and what follows doesn’t add up to much. Gabe waits outside Rosemary’s house, concocts excuses to practice with her and eventually joins her and her parents on what seems like a date, only to discover Rosemary’s future includes plans for camp and then private school, which throws up roadblocks to their semi-budding romance.

The result is a child obsessing in a very adult-like manner about first kisses, prying Rosemary away from her nanny and hiding the infatuation from his friends and folks. Of course, none of that settles the nagging question that if the girl reciprocates, what then, exactly?

Interestingly, Levin’s resume includes an extended stint as a producer on “The Wonder Years.” Having an adult provide the voiceover on that series made a substantial difference that probably would have been beneficial here.

As it is, the director throws in visual flourishes, fantasy sequences and movie tributes (most notably one to “The Graduate”) to little effect, the exception being a martial-arts TV star who coaches Gabe much like Bogart in “Play It Again, Sam.” There’s also appropriate use of the lilting song “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes),” a name and tune the Farrelly brothers employed similarly in “Shallow Hal.”

Hutcherson’s credits include roles in “Kicking and Screaming” and “The Polar Express,” but the filmmakers do their star no favors by saddling him with reams of stilted dialogue and a truly misguided scene where he must sob uncontrollably. The adults, meanwhile, are only slightly more present than the parents in a Charlie Brown cartoon.

All told, it’s a strangely conceived brew — one that’s likely too mushy for most cootie-fearing kids and might make parents wrestling with when-to-date issues a trifle uneasy.

“When you’re 10 years old,” Gabe observes near the outset, “two and a half weeks can be a lifetime.”

Once you’re grown up, 90 minutes can feel that way, too.

Popular on Variety

Little Manhattan

Production: A 20th Century Fox release of a Regency Enterprises presentation of a Pariah/New Regency production. Produced by Gavin Polone, Arnon Milchan. Executive producers, Ezra Swerdlow, Vivian Cannon. Co-producer, Jeffrey Harlacker. Directed by Mark Levin. Screenplay, Jennifer Flackett.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Tim Orr; editor, Alan Edward Bell; music, Chad Fischer; music supervisor, Patrick Houlihan; production designer, Stuart Wurtzel; art director, John Kasarda; set decorator, Diane Lederman; costume designer, Kasia Walicka Maimone; sound (Dolby/DTS), James Sabat; supervising sound editor, Susan Dawes; assistant director, Michael DeCasper; casting, Douglas Aibel. Reviewed at 20th Century Fox Studios, Los Angeles, Sept. 28, 2005. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 90 MIN.

With: Gabe - Josh Hutcherson Adam - Bradley Whitford Leslie - Cynthia Nixon Rosemary - Charlie Ray Ralph - Willie Garson

More Film

  • Hustlers Box Office

    Box Office: Why 'Hustlers' Soared While 'The Goldfinch' Flopped

    Though STX’s “Hustlers” and Warner Bros.’ “The Goldfinch” couldn’t be more different in terms of genre or style, the two new releases prove the divergent paths that mid-budget movies can take at the box office. Both films arrived last weekend in an environment that has been increasingly hostile to anything that’s not of the superhero [...]

  • The Irishman

    Martin Scorsese's 'The Irishman' Set for Centerpiece Screening at Rome Festival

    Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” will be among highlights of the upcoming Rome Film Festival, following its European launch as the closing film at the BFI London Film Festival. As with the Oct. 13 London premiere, key cast members of the hotly anticipated Netflix film are expected to attend the screening in Rome, as is Scorsese. [...]

  • 'Cheer Up, Mr. Lee' to be

    Korean Comedy 'Cheer Up, Mr. Lee' to be Remade in French

    Currently on-release South Korean comedy drama, “Cheer Up, Mr. Lee” is to be remade in French. “Mr. Lee” is the story of a mentally-challenged man who learns that he has a sick daughter, and embarks on a voyage of discovery with his new family member. A remake deal was struck between Yong Film, part of [...]

  • The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos

    Korea: 'The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos’ Rules Chuseok Holiday Box Office

    Local films dominated cinemagoing in South Korea over the 4-day Chuseok holiday weekend, traditionally one of the year’s busiest periods. The winner was “The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos.” Opening on Wednesday, the CJ Entertainment release earned $20.2 million from 1.97 million admissions over five days. A film adaptation of CJ E&M’s 2014 hit TV [...]

  • Disco

    New Europe Sells Toronto and San Sebastian Film 'Disco' to Several Territories (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jan Naszewski’s New Europe Film Sales has signed several distribution deals on “Disco,” which had its world premiere in Toronto Film Festival’s Discovery section and makes its European premiere in San Sebastian’s New Directors competition. The film has been picked up by Palace for Australia and New Zealand, Artcam for Czech Republic and Slovakia, Kino [...]

  • "Jade Dynasty" in front at the

    China Box Office: 'Jade Dynasty' in Front Ahead of Mixed Competition

    With “Jade Dynasty” out front, Chinese action and Asian animation films led the way at the China box office over the past weekend, while the few American titles in play have failed to attract many moviegoers. Chinese action fantasy “Jade Dynasty” led the weekend box office in its debut with $38.1 million, figures from consultancy [...]

  • The Painted Bird

    Venice Competition Film 'The Painted Bird' Is Czech Entry in Oscar Race

    Václav Marhoul’s “The Painted Bird,” which world premiered at the Venice Film Festival in the main competition and also played at the Toronto Film Festival in Special Presentations, has been selected as the Czech Republic’s entry for the 92nd Academy Awards in the international feature film category. The pic follows the journey of an unnamed [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content