I don’t really care how much hardcore you are about films, (I, shamelessly pretending to regard myself as one, notwithstanding) but the truth is: it can such be a headache to rate movies based on how substantially good they are versus how much you really enjoy them. True, it gets tiring to overanalyze sometimes that you just wanted to shove your cranky-critic self in the backseat so that your wide-eyed couchpotato heart could take the front row and enjoy despite the cinematic flaws. I admit I have strong bouts of childish lapses more than I’m willing to admit, but that’s because I’m drawn towards memories, and I love it when a film genuinely makes me remember. Nostalgia, I heard, is the clingy mistress of growing up.
And oh cheesecakes, nostalgia abounds a-plenty in the 2005 film, Little Manhattan.
Its candy-flavored plot of puppy loves and first heartbreaks is wonderfully directed/acted with witty, precocious and dead-straight relatable overtones, as if someone stole my grade-school diary and made a movie out of it. The embarrassment, the goosebumps, the inevitable blushing and the thump thump of hearts—it’s all here. And if you’re thinking this movie is kiddie-sized, I hate to break it to you, but you have no idea how wrong you are.
What had me all sold out about this film is Gabe’s solid, no-holds-barred storytelling. Hey, I’m not usually a fan of voice-overs as plot device either, but Gabe’s voice is so consistently fidgeting and paranoid, so jaded yet vulnerable, so bittersweetly boyish, that his narrative becomes an essential threshold in the unfolding of the story.
When I made my girlfriends watch this, one of the first things they took note of was that it’s very unusual to know what’s inside a boy’s head when they’re in love, since what we mostly get are girl POVs in romance movies and chick flicks. And it is refreshing to watch this amidst the influx of recycled, cliche-ridden love stories of today. I’m also crazy about the fact that we are inside Gabe’s head for the entire movie, and it is overflowing with thoughts of Rosemary Telesco—object and subject of his affection.
It’s adorable and heartfelt how he questions the pounding of his heart and how he’s tainted with that ‘sleek, no-sweat’ mentality boys usually project to shield their denials. But he’s head over heels, alright. Everything from waiting for a phone call, to wanting to hold someone’s hand, made me gawk in awkward acknowledgement, as if I’m watching a younger version of myself. And it’s so close to second-hand embarrassment, really, the way we make fools out of ourselves and do the silliest things for love’s namesake. When Gabe looks at Rosemary, it’s fizzling with pure, naïve longing—the desperation to read her mind and to get a clue, an affirmation that the attraction is requited and not, heavens forbid, one-sided. Can you see yourself now?
It’s also amazing that Rosemary is not the typical, girl-next-door blonde/ damsel in distress type—it’s cute how Gabe emphasizes again and again that she’s only the third prettiest in class. Oh boys and their obsession with rankings. And to top it all off, she’s kick-ass (Karate Yellow-Belter, anyone?) and a pretty smart conversationalist.
On a more serious note though, the movie nicely mirrors the world of grown-ups and its complexities. When Gabe painstakingly asks his father, “Dad, why does love have to end?”, there’s that choked-up feeling inside my gut that never fails to happen every time a single line gets me and gets me good. Gabe, you dorky sweetheart you, and your unanswerable questions.
And the ending, oh my goodness, it’s climactic but it almost felt like a requiem. The shortness of breath and the stillness—it’s so lovely and low-key and bittersweet, like how all our first-loves are. In Gabe’s words:
Suddenly, I knew what I had to do. Love isn’t about ridiculous little words. Love is about grand gestures. Love is about airplanes pulling banners over stadiums, proposals on jumbo-trons, giant words in sky writing. Love is about going that extra mile even if it hurts, letting it all hang out there. Love is about finding courage inside of you that you didn’t even know was there.
For real, how can you not swoon at this? Sure it’s made of sugary cute but it’s grounded to earthly reality, too. What more can I ask for? Okay, perhaps, I wish to go back time and relinquish that wondrous, scary, awesome, breathtaking feeling of being eleven and basking in the beauty of newness, the scent of freshness and beginnings of being madly in love—for the first time, like it’s forever.