May 21, 2006

Little Manhattan

At the end of Little Manhattan, I felt ready to puke. These are children, yes, but that only makes the whole damn thing more excruciating. They don't have years of rejection and disappointment to prepare them. They don't have the years of recoveries to let them how normal it is to feel like nothing will ever be alright again. Jennifer Flackett's screenplay stabs right at the heart of what it is to place so much of yourself upon someone else's glances. Mark Levin, in his directorial debut, utterly refuses to back down or cushion the blow.
These are fairly-well-to-do up through very-well-to-do people we're dealing with here, and yet the experience is so universal that it transcends age or economic station. Charlie Ray, age eleven at the time, captures innocently with a smile here and a glance there all of the wonder and mystery that have haunted men through the ages. Josh Hutcherson is the perfect analogue for every step of that wonderful and often terrifying roller coaster. His narration is often frantic; but then, his is a frantic situation. As his parents, Bradley Whitford and Cynthia Nixon make a compelling case that man and women will never reach a place of saying what they actually feel.
In his review of Say Anything, Roger Ebert wrote that, "a movie like this is possible because its maker believes in the young characters, and in doing the right thing, and in staying true to oneself. The sad teenage comedies of recent years are apparently made by filmmakers who have little respect for themselves or their characters, and sneer because they dare not dream." The protagonists of Little Manhattan are even younger, but at least our narrator is no less serious. The movie is filled with moments of Gabe and Rosemary merely standing and looking at each other. Rosemary sees something elusive and quietly wonderful in Gabe, and Gabe sees everything in Rosemary. Levin knows that with his two leads he has captured something magical, and he (unlike so many of today's directors) has the respect and the vision not to get in their way.
We live in a world filled with people making wrong choices, interpreting the wrong things, and idly hoping for the impossible. Most of us become hardened and cynical early on. Gabe takes the wreckage of his own parent's love, and sees the right choice as his only available option. It is rare to find anybody that still thinks like that. The characters in this film dare to dream, and they suffer for it. The miracle is that the filmmakers take care to remind us frankly and unapologetically how beautiful and how treasured that suffering will always be. Flackett and Levin have looked back to childhood to craft the Say Anything of the twenty-first century. ()


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