Once you put your place on the market, you don’t want to be there when a Realtor holds an open house for prospective buyers.
Strangers coldly sizing up rooms that hold special memories for you, rolling their eyes at your taste in furniture, talking openly about how the place can really “open up” once they make the necessary improvements.
Richard Loncraine’s “5 Flights Up” gets that just right. Watching young potential buyers judging an elderly couple’s home (and by extension their very lives ) while the broker touts the amenities and explains away the shortcomings of the place, all while the owners are right there in the room, you want to kick everyone out of the place and tell the couple it’s really best not to be home for these open houses.
The film is also confident and comfortable in its depiction of a couple in the home stretch of a long and mostly happy marriage. And with Oscar winners Morgan Freeman (as Alex) and Diane Keaton (as Ruth) playing that couple, you know the performances are going to feel just right.
Problem is, it doesn’t feel like there’s a whole movie, even with flashback sequences, some of them featuring Korey Jackson as the younger version of Alex and Claire van der Boom doing a startling dead-on impersonation of Keaton’s younger self. Yes, an interracial relationship in Brooklyn in the 1970s raised some eyebrows and caused problems. And yes, we nod in recognition of the bittersweet moments in the couple’s lives, e.g., a flashback to the rooftop retirement party for Ruth. (She was a teacher. Alex was a painter.)
But what else do we have? An inordinate amount of time devoted to a subplot involving the couple’s dog, who takes ill and requires an expensive operation. Even on a reality show, it would get tedious watching telephone conversations between a veterinarian and the owners of a dog, discussing his health problems and the cost of keeping him alive. (Sidebar: I love dogs. Sometimes I love movies about dogs. In “5 Flights,” we don’t really get to know the dog before the poor thing is hospitalized.)
The other running storyline in “5 Flights Up” feels tacked on and is more problematic. There’s a possible terrorism threat jamming up traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, which leads to Alex shaking his head at the biased media coverage and remembering what it was like to be a young minority, while the Realtor (Cynthia Nixon) is more concerned about how the traffic tie-ups could affect business. (Even though the apartment is literally five flights up, as in there’s no working elevator in the building, the Brooklyn of the 2010s is very different from the Brooklyn of the 1970s. Selling this apartment for close to a million bucks won’t be a problem.)
In “Heroic Measures,” the novel upon which “5 Flights Up” is based, we learn a lot more about the terrorist suspect. (For that matter, we learn a lot more about Alex and Ruth’s dog.) Here, it just feels like a plot device.
Sometimes you see a play and you can imagine it being a movie. Sometimes you see a small movie like this, and you can imagine it working better as an intimate stage play.