Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Sometimes we parents need to be a little duplicitous. Sometimes we need to act dumb. Sometimes we need to do both at the same time.

“So, watch this movie with me, will ya? It’s about a couple of kids growing up in New York City... and, you know, you were just there and everything. It could be fun.”

I tried not to sound like I cared much one way or the other.

“Well, what’s it about?” K asked.

“About two kids growing up in New York City,” I repeated, with an emphatic “Duh!” unspoken but firmly implied.

“But what is it about? Sports? Getting lost? Monsters in Manhattan?” He was impatient, furiously drumming along to a Dinosaur Jr. song (I forgot how good they could be!) on "Rock Band 2." (Thank God it’s not all Survivor, the Go Gos and System of a Down.)

“I don’t know. They just ... live there.”

“I’m going to watch it, even if you don’t.” I almost blew it, forcing the nonchalance, but I can proudly say that I had just the right tone of not really caring. I’m no amateur.

If I told him Little Manhattan was about an 11-year-old kid (who happens to live in NYC) and his first love, I would have been laughed out of the room and that would have been the end of it. I had to play it right.

“Why don’t I just start it in a bit, and if you don’t like it after ten minutes, you can do something else. But I want to see it .... ‘cause... you know ... it’s New York.”

Silence (except for the sloppy drumming).

“Ok,” he grunted in between fills.

So, an hour and a half later, we’re grinning and talking about what a fun movie it was.

(Yeah, that’s how you do it!)

So, yes, a big thumbs up here. Little Manhattan is totally charming, sweet, not embarrassing to watch with your own 11-year-old kid, and I wondered why I hadn’t heard of it before. Was it a straight to DVD movie?

It came out in 2005, and is directed by Mark Levin, who was a writer and co-producer for the television show “The Wonder Years.” Remember “The Wonder Years?” This film shares that style of narrative ( the story being told by the boy) and also shares its knack for not presenting kids as silly and dismissive, but rather as curious, bright and impatient masses of matter -- with brains and emotions firing in all directions -- trying to find their way.

Levin also directed Nim’s Island, and wrote 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, both pretty decent kid films. He knows what he’s doing.

Get Little Manhattan, watch it with your kids -- act surprised that it has anything to do with embarrassing, budding emotions and hormones, but revel together in all the life-stuff you share with the film: the agony of belt acquisition in karate class (or your own sports drama equivalent); bullies; the “iron curtain” that falls between boys and girls and their friendships somewhere around first or second grade; a tweener boy constantly being mistaken for his mom on the phone (what could be more embarrassing for him?); and perhaps even the throbbing pain of divorce (the boy’s parents are in the horrible, awkward throes). Admire New York (and wonder if a good parent would really let their kid ride all over NY -- even the upper West Side -- on a scooter, for hours on end) and remember how much you loved Bradley Whitford in “West Wing” (and maybe you loved Cynthia Nixon in “Sex and the City;” I could never get through an episode of that show).

And the best part: steal surreptitious glances at your progeny during the cheesy but bittersweet “this-crush-is-gonna-kill-me" scenes, and glean something about your kid and the future.

Hey, it’s gotta happen sometime.

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