5 Flights Up

5 FLIGHTS UP. Starring: Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, and Cynthia Nixon. Directed by Richard Loncraine. Rated M (Coarse language). 92 min.

This American drama-comedy tells the story of a couple, who become caught up in life's problems when they plan to move away from their comfortable apartment, five floors up in a busy dwelling in Brooklyn, New York. The movie is based on the novel, "Heroic Measures" written in 2009 by Jill Ciment.

A moderately successful artist, Alex Carver (Morgan Freeman), and his retired school-teacher wife, Ruth (Diane Keaton) have lived in the same apartment for 40 years. They are used to fielding disapproving glances associated in their time together with people, who wonder how they could be married so happily.

Their apartment is five floors up in their building and there are five sets of stairs they have to climb, and time is passing them both by. They are ambivalent about the changes they see in the environment around them, and they ask Ruth's real-estate niece, Lily (Cynthia Nixon) to test the market for what their apartment can bring. At the very least, they think that in any new building they will have an elevator, but they are ill-prepared for the insults and criticism of an army of would-be, insensitive buyers tracking through their home.

On the weekend they decide to have open house, a lot of things happen. They are bombarded with prying people, there is a suspected terrorist attack on the Brooklyn Bridge nearby, and their beloved dog gets sick. Chaos descends on them from all directions, and the weekend sends them into confusion about where they should go, and what they should do. The cameo visits of people over the "open" weekend provide good comedy routines, and some laugh-aloud comic moments.

Between the ups and down of two ageing people wanting to move elsewhere, not wanting to move, wishing to go, and wanting to stay, this is a movie that imbeds its drama into a slight story. Three things produce a balance against the simplicity of the core plot. First, Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman are seasoned, polished performers and it is easy to enjoy watching skilful actors at work. The chemistry between them is very good. Second, the obvious simplicity of the plot-line involves characters in real-life situations that most viewers can readily identify with. Third, the drama behind the characters is repeatedly reinforced, and highlighted by flashbacks that interestingly contrast the experiences of Alex and Ruth with what happened to them years before when they were younger, less wiser, but (still) very much in love.

Some of the flashbacks work better than others, and the script is strong on racial understanding and tolerance. But through all the sentimentality, and earnestness, Keaton and Freeman shine, and they manage to rise above any earnestness with natural style - which is probably easy to do because nothing very dramatic happens to either of them. The film is free of violence, vulgarity, or any sign of bad taste, and is enjoyable precisely because life for Alex and Ruth seems so ordinary.

There are several sub-plots to the main story line, such as the extent of greed that lies behind the real estate industry, the difficulties of people adapting to environmental change, the problems of sustaining animal-love when loved animals become expensive to keep, and the onset of time on just growing old. But the most interesting subplot is the capacity of two committed people to meet the challenges posed by others, who don't understand how a couple can hold onto happiness and fulfilment in an interracial marriage. Keaton and Freeman communicate expertly what interracial couples deal with, day by day. The dalliance with a terrorist plot is distracting, and not needed at all to keep the human drama warmly alive at other levels.

The film is well scripted and deftly handles the big things and small things of love and life in a busy, bustling city, and it does so with easy grace. This is a delicate, slight movie with two seasoned performers, passing their time together with commitment and affection. The natural and genuine love relationship between Alex and Ruth lies at the heart of this movie, and it works.

Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Becker Film Group

Released August 13th., 2015


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