House hunting’s a pain. But hey, at least you’ve still got a ten-year-old dog by your side!
After being together for nearly 40 years and living in the same old, New York City apartment, Ruth (Diane Keaton) and Alex (Morgan Freeman) feel that it’s maybe time to start fresh and anew. And with the help of Ruth’s niece (Cynthia Nixon), they’ll definitely try to get the best deal possible, however, things don’t seem to be working quite in their favor right now. For one, their ten-year-old dog, Dorothy, has to be sent to the vet for a very expensive surgery that may, or may not, save the dog’s life. Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s now a supposed bomb scare going all around New York City that’s causing all sorts of traffic and keeping more and more people away from Alex and Ruth’s apartment. And now that they are both getting older, Alex and Ruth also have to come to terms with the kinds of people they are, whether it be when they’re together, or their own separate entity; something that may not be too easy for mild-tempered Alex to do.
There’s something to be said for a movie that stars two of the most engaging, lovely presences ever to grace the big screen, give them characters that we’re supposed to see as wholly sympathetic, and have them be anything but. Surely director Richard Loncraine had different intentions in mind when he was creating 5 Flights Up (originally titled Alex & Ruth, for obvious reasons); a movie where, basically, we spend nearly an-hour-and-a-half watching Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton walk around NYC, going house-hunting. While this doesn’t sound like such a bad time considering that it’s Freeman and Keaton, two seasoned pros who it’s great to see sharing the screen for what I think is the first time, it’s actually a pretty miserable experience, if only because the characters are so grating.
Don’t get me wrong, both Freeman and Keaton are good as Alex and Ruth, respectively. Together, they share a nice chemistry that makes it seem like they’ve been working together for so many years, and that this was only a little practice round for shits and gigs. But separate, they’re both still good, even despite the writing for their characters. As usual, Keaton is warm and bubbly, whereas Freeman spouts wisdom in a class-A fashion that makes you believe he’s been through it all. Which is to say, yes, Keaton and Freeman are both playing their “types” up and not worrying about it, but once again, that’s all fine, because they’re good at what they do and they don’t need to really change it up.
But it all comes down to these characters, man.
See, with Ruth and Alex, though they seem like harmless elderly folk, the movie eventually starts to unravel them as sort of mean-spirited, cranky codgers that don’t like the direction that their neighborhood has been going, and rather than just accepting the fact for what it is, they can’t help but let everybody know that they’re pissed-off about it. This is more so in the case of Alex, as he’s honestly just a mean, sometimes detestable character who gets irritated at practically anything or anybody he stumbles upon in life; people who are simply trying to have a conversation with him, he can’t help but be rude to and shoo them off as if they were actually asking Morgan Freeman for an autograph. While Ruth may not be as irritatingly angry as Alex, the fact that she still sticks up for him, even when he’s being a total and complete ass, still makes me think that she’s not only apart of the problem, she may actually be the problem.
Maybe I’m thinking a bit too hard about these characters and focusing less and less on the mechanics of the plot, but when something is as subdued and small as this, it’s kind of hard not to just talk about them. Although, if there is a reason as to why I didn’t mind this movie as much, was because it offered a sometimes insightful glimpse into the world of real estate – most importantly, the state in which it’s in in New York City. The way in how a house-for-sale is represented to possible customers, to the many deals happening behind closed doors between agents and buyers, writer Charlie Peters definitely seems like he knows a thing or two about buying an apartment, all that comes with it, and how it can be so challenging to find that one special place.
And honestly, with that said, I think the pro of this movie is really Cynthia Nixon, as the niece whose helping Ruth and Alex out. Nixon’s always charmed me whenever she shows up in something, and as this untitled character, she helps make what would otherwise be an annoying character, sort of fun, sort of enjoyable, and actually, pretty sweet. Not only is she laying it all on the line to make sure that Ruth and Alex have their own special forever home that they can cherish for their final years together, she’s also making sure that she does so without losing her hair or punching a hole through the wall. There’s something heartfelt about this character that she’s not really trying to find these two a house so she can make more money on the commission, or get in the good graces of fellow real estate agents, but so that she can actually help out two family members she loves.
Then again though, it all comes back to Ruth and Alex.
For some odd reason, while Ruth is sort of okay with the way the niece acts, Alex is so adamant towards her that every sentence he utters in her general direction, has the feeling actual hatred. It honestly seems to come from nowhere and makes Alex seem more like a miserable a-hole that, while probably doesn’t deserve to live on the streets per se, definitely doesn’t deserve all of the time and effort the niece is putting into finding him as well as his long-lasting girlfriend a home. And while the movie may not be all about them house-hunting and also has something to do with Ruth and Alex’s relationship from the early days, to over the years, it still didn’t register with me well enough, nor understand why somebody would be so mean to somebody who, simply, is just trying to help them.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the whole terrorist subplot. Seriously, it’s not worth it.
Consensus: Despite a great performance from Nixon and a neat, rather tense look into the housing market, 5 Flights Up is held down by the fact that it’s two central characters are quite unlikable, even despite the fact that they’re played by Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton.
5 / 10