By Marlena De Lacroix
My friend Roger Newcomb, who is the editor of We Love Soaps, invited Moose and me to attend a Tribeca screening of Manhattanites, the film he co-produced with Lyle Kaminer. We really enjoyed it, and I think you’ll like it too, especially if you are a soap fan.
Manhattanites tells the story of a group of young people whose busy lives intersect toward the end of the film in a fiery coincidence. The hub of all this activity is a downtown coffee shop where everyone, sooner or later, seems to end up.
Gretchen (Caroline Hay), an ambitious waitress at the coffee shop, longs to leave her job to become a television news reporter, a dream that comes true when she is hired by a local television station. She thrives in her new world despite the meanness of the station’s ace anchorman, a preening air hog named Kyle (Aiden Turner, All My Children), who mocks her and generally makes life hell for her. Another waitress, Ashley (Diana Christabel), is having a secret affair with a sometime customer named Todd (Matt Martini), who is engaged to Hannah (Tasha Guevara) the secretary of a record producer named Charlie (Gregori J. Martin, who also directed the movie) who is also the beau of Gretchen. He is against the affair his rich brother Blake (Lev Gorn) is having with one of the record company’s resident stars, Matt (Forbes March, Nash, One Life to Live). Blake’s ex-fiancee Marilyn (Ilene Kristen, Roxie, OLTL) is still bitter about the breakup. She’s the lawyer of … the record company producer. And, believe it or not, there are even more intersecting characters and more overlapping stories in this energetically ambitious independent film.
What’s unique about this movie — and the quality that makes it especially appealing to daytime soap fans — is that the script is so clearly influenced by the creators’ lifetimes of soap opera watching. All the characters’ storylines are given equal weight, and a handful of the characters are siblings (Blake and Charlie and Todd and Matt) who constantly talk to each other caringly about their problems and dilemmas. Even though the characters live in crowded downtown Manhattan, their small circle of friends (and siblings) makes the locale feel like a small town — the kind of place each daytime soap has as its own sphere.
And then there is a generous helping of real life soap stars who play many parts in the movie. And they do a very fine job. Forbes March gives a forceful performance trying to convince his character’s lover to have the decency and pride to come out to his family and the public about his gay romance. Aiden Turner is leanly snide and suave as the TV reporter who won’t stop berating the waitress. I’ve never been a fan of Turner’s Megan McTavish-created character on AMC, but his archness and dry humor are extremely refreshing here. Stealing the show as she always does is Ilene Kristen, who runs the gamut from sniffly to nasty as the betrayed Marilyn. Kristen hasn’t had this many range of colors to play since her days as the tempestuous Delia Ryan on Ryan’s Hope.
Other soap stars who are in the movie include David Fumero as Juan, the diner’s cook (Marlena just loves when Fumero speaks Spanish, as he does extensively here) and Jill Larson (Opal, All My Children) who contributes a memorable cameo as a diner customer called Mrs. Grimm. Co-director is Darnell Williams (Jesse, All My Children). Plus, this very large and energetic cast contains a host of non-soap stars who are nicely promising enough to be favorably noticed by soap casting directors.
All in all, an impressive achievement for a first movie and for all involved.