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5 Flights Up – Review


Release Date: 8 May 2015 (USA]
Director: Richard Loncraine
Writer: Jill Ciment [Novel] - Charlie Peters [Screenplay]
Cast: Diane Keaton - Morgan Freeman - Cynthia Nixon



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4 total ratings


Posted May 14, 2015 by

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5 Flights Up Review:

5 Flights Up is a romantic comedy/drama that touches on issues of aging, prejudice, racism, terrorism, and canine orthopedics. And it has Morgan Freeman doing voice over. Therein lies the biggest problem in a mostly pleasant and even charming little story. It tries to be big when in fact it is a very small slice of life.

Actually, that may not be the biggest problem. The biggest problem may be the resolution, but I’ll save that for – well, the resolution.

Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton play Alex and Ruth Carver, married for forty some years, and living the entire time in a cute little two bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. When they moved in, it was cheap. Now it is worth a ton. When they moved in, the lack of an elevator didn’t matter. They could practically fly up the five flights of stairs. Now, aging joints and weary lungs make the climb harder and harder. Therefore, it seems like it is time to sell. With the help of Ruth’s real estate agent niece Lilly (Cynthia Nixon), the apartment is about to hit the market.

Alex, a painter who loves the view and the light offered by his home studio, is more reluctant than Ruth, but he understands the rationale, especially when their beloved dog Dorothy suffers a ruptured disk from climbing all those steps every day. As they field offers and seek a new place for themselves, they are constantly monitoring Dorothy’s post-op progress at the vet. The other recurring narrative element concerns the mystery of a truck driver who has abandoned his rig on the Williamsburg Bridge, snarling traffic and messing with the real estate market. When it is learned that the missing driver is of Arab descent, the news media runs wild with speculation of terrorist activity.

Alex watches the proceedings with a mixture of bemusement and bewilderment, and occasionally chimes in on the events with his narration. Both he and Ruth remember how their love affair all began through the occasional flashback as they contemplate where they are today, and where they will be tomorrow.

I do not want to overstate the failings of 5 Flights Up. The fact that director Richard Loncraine and screenwriter Charlie Peters make several significant missteps should not hide all the good things they offer. The portrait of an aging couple, taken from Jill Ciment’s novel “Heroic Measures,” is beautifully detailed. The past few years have witnessed similar portraits in the form of Ira Sachs’ Love is Strange and Roger Michell’s Le-Weekend. 5 Flights Up is far more charming than those two very dour slogs through aging. It does not shy away unpleasant realities, but the relationship between Ruth and Alex is full of a fierce love that sustains them through bickering and fear. It should come as no surprise that the best thing about Loncriane’s movie is the fact that he has Keaton and Freeman in the central roles.

Loncraine and Peters also handle many of the individual elements quite well. The flashbacks come and go at a brisk and seamless pace, highlighting key memories from Alex and Ruth’s earliest days in the apartment. The two subplots, one about Dorothy and the other about the terrorist suspect, are incorporated with similar efficiency. The supporting cast is not asked to stretch very far, but Nixon, as the main support, is quite good. And the humor, when focused on the gentle conflicts in the married couple’s relationship, is usually perfectly toned. There is a lot to like.

But there are also those missteps. Though the individual elements work nicely, the movie’s tone fluctuates throughout. Whereas Ruth and Alex portray a finely tuned, realistic couple, the characters that stroll through their open house are every manner of exaggeration – be it the obnoxious investment banker or the obnoxious psycho-therapist. The lesbian couple may not be obnoxious, but they are similarly stereotypical. These scenes, which provide a lot of humor, feel like they come out of a different movie. Then there is the poor truck driver/terrorist. The depiction of the media’s breathlessness in creating a crisis where none exists provides very good satire, and again, Loncraine and Peters execute it quite well. But Alex and Ruth are not satiric characters. Every time we shift from these realistic people to the exaggerated group swirling around them, the movie suffers a hiccup. It feels at times like Loncraine was making two, or perhaps three, different movies.

Hovering over all of it, Freeman’s rather sparse narration feels like an afterthought. It’s almost as if the storytellers figured “we’ve got Freeman, I guess we need some narration.” His voice has become so indelibly linked to narration that it risks being a cliché in and of itself. Here, the narration simply doesn’t matter enough. The real pleasant surprise would have been to leave it out.

And now, the resolution. American audiences place way too much emphasis on how things end. Maybe other cultures do too. But my egotism only extends so far, so I’ll just speak for Americans. 5 Flights Up does not end well. It does end logically, but there’s a difference between logic and drama. The audience can see what Alex and Ruth ought to do from about the third minute of the movie. It’s really not that challenging a dilemma. But it takes them 90 minutes to arrive at this realization. That really hurts the dramatic impact of the resolution. It has you walking out of the theater feeling like what you have just witnessed is a bit frivolous. You feel vaguely unsatisfied. Not angry. Not crushed. Just a little disappointed that that’s all there was. With Freeman and Keaton, and a lot of good vignettes, there just should have been more.


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Jonathan Eig
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