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‘Little Manhattan’ is a love letter to New York

Romantic comedy through the eyes of an 11 year old has a fresh spirit. By Christy Lemire
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nearly every every romantic comedy shot in New York since Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” has purported itself to be a love letter to the city.

“Little Manhattan” really is — so much so that officials may want to use it in a tourism campaign. The sun always shines, the subways are always safe, and love can blossom in romantic, hidden nooks all over the city.

Sound like your typical romantic comedy, or yet another movie from Allen himself?

That’s exactly what it would be if the main characters weren’t 11 years old.

But through the eyes of giddy, awkward prepubescents, falling in love — and doing so for the first time, in Manhattan — seems surprisingly fresh and exciting and new. It’s also undeniably cute, as fifth-grader Gabe Burton (the likable, confident Josh Hutcherson) pines for and agonizes over classmate Rosemary Telesco (Charlie Ray, an adorable natural in her first film role).

Long functioning under the philosophy that girls are “basically gross,” Gabe is stunned to find himself notice the charms of Rosemary, whom he’s known since kindergarden, one day in karate class.

As he explains in one of many extended voiceovers (a device that husband-and-wife director Mark Levin and writer Jennifer Flackett rely on too heavily), “I’ve been in love for two and a half weeks and it’s a pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”

Using the freedom he’s acquired while his parents (Cynthia Nixon and Bradley Whitford) separate to explore a 10-block section of the Upper West Side, Gabe finds dumb excuses to ride his scooter past Rosemary’s high-rise on the park. When he does run into her, he tries to be suave while stammering for the right thing to say — like any guy of any age trying to impress a woman he likes.

“You’re weak, you’re pathetic, you’re going to be alone your entire life,” he chides himself internally. And later: “Why isn’t she looking at me? Am I hideous? Do I smell?”

Yes, the romantic anxiety is very familiar in its Woodyesque fashion. So is the loving depiction of New York. Gabe and Rosemary wander through Central Park, exploring Sheep Meadow and Strawberry Fields. They ride his scooter all the way along the Hudson River on a sun-splashed summer afternoon, the wind in their hair and Rosemary’s arms wrapped snugly around Gabe’s chest. (And it’s a nice touch that she’s slightly taller than him, especially since she keeps insisting that girls mature faster than boys.)

“Was there any better age to be in any better city in the world?” he wonders.

It’s hard not to have a smile on your face while watching their innocent, young adventures.

But Gabe’s reverie is shattered when Rosemary announces that she’s heading off to summer camp soon, then probably to private school in the fall. This prompts the inevitable hurt feelings and misunderstandings on both sides, followed by that staple of romantic comedy reconciliation, the mad dash to a wedding for a last-minute confession of love.

(This is usually interchangeable with the mad dash to the airport/train station/New Year’s Eve party at the stroke of midnight. Usually someone like Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan is on the receiving end.)

But from the perspective of a lovestruck preteen, this convention of the genre is tolerable, and even a little sweet.