Saturday, April 08, 2006

Little Manhattan

Not since You've Got Mail has there been a movie so in love with the Upper West Side as Little Manhattan. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as another semi-fictional UWS'er would say. The characters shop at Fairway, hang around the above-ground subway entrance at 72nd Street, wear the neighborhood on their T-shirts: Fordham Law, the American Museum of Natural History. The little boy narrator also has a Strand Bookstore shirt, but it's hard to tell if he's actually been there.

When the 10-year-old narrator suggests that his divorcing father could move into a great place in the West Village, the father looks at him like he's crazy, dismissing the possibility — mostly because he says he'd be too far from his son, but still. This conversation comes right after a funny scene where the little boy and the 11-year-old girl with whom he's fallen in puppy love take the subway downtown to meet a broker to look at a two-bedroom apartment on Grove Street with "treetop views" and WBF. ("That means a wood-burning fireplace," says the girl, whose wealthy parents go to open houses on the weekend for fun.) The broker is tapping away on his PDA when the young couple roll up on the boy's scooter, and he's about to walk away when the little girl says to the broker what she believes to be the magic words: "You want your commission, right?"

The character's name is "Rosemary Telesco," and the way the little boy repeats it, first and last name together, definitely took me back to grade school when we all seemed to refer to our fellow classmates that way.

While the Upper West Side — in this case, mostly between West 72nd and 81st streets — is a relatively safe place as city neighborhoods go, you do have to suspend disbelief a bit as the rather innocent boy is allowed to roam that area alone on his scooter. The parents do freak out, though, following his little unchaperoned real estate adventure in the Village, during which Rosemary stops into a tattoo parlor to ask directions and a ragged-looking guy on the street warns the little boy that his love-struck heart is going to take a beating so he should get out while he can.

New York references aside, I thought it was a pretty charming take on the romantic comedy genre. A couple does get together in the end (and the closing shot is yet another UWS reference), but it's not the little boy and the little girl, although they manage to part amicably. While I wasn't that young when I first started really paying attention to girls, it certainly captured some of that early drama and childhood perspective — like the feeling that two and a half weeks with someone can change everything but six weeks apart would be like an eternity. It's easy to laugh now, but at the time, oh, it was serious stuff. And as far as we can come from that first love or kiss or crush or moment of holding each other's sweaty hands under the table, a part of us is still that little boy or that little girl, who wants to revel in the joy of love, to look around and see the other person's name written across, say, the marquee at the Beacon Theater, to be taken seriously and want things to last.

On a side note, I was a little surprised to learn that this movie never really got into wide distribution. It maxed out at 35 theaters, and took in less than half a million dollars. I didn't think all the NYC references would be so off-putting that it wouldn't play well elsewhere. And while it's rated PG, I thought it was more than interesting enough to watch as an adult.

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