5 Flights Up
Starring Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, Cynthia Nixon
There isn’t anything universally profound about 5 Flights Up, we accept Keaton and Freeman as husband and wife for over 40 years because they are both actors we are so familiar with. The script does well to also ignore the difference in skin color because it’s a moot point and certainly not what this story is about. Richard Loncraine’s direction isn’t flashy, creative or even impressive, he allows these award winning actors to tell the story of Ruth & Alex through the stereotypes they have become known for. Keaton looks right at home, arguing down the streets of Manhattan as she once did in Annie Hall. It is refreshing however to see Freeman in a lead role again. An element of the film that struck me as peculiar is how every single character outside of Ruth & Alex exemplifies the worst of New York City.
For over 40 years Ruth (Keaton) and Alex (Freeman) have lived in Manhattan, “before it was cool”, they admit. Now their two bedroom one bath apartment is worth around one million. They don’t want to leave their home, but the building doesn’t have an elevator and they are unsure how much longer they can climb the stairs. Coincidentally their 10 year old dog Dorothy has a slipped disk and also cannot climb to their quant fifth floor apartment. So this weekend Ruth and Alex prepare for an open house, gaging the market, testing the waters. Their niece (Nixon) is pushing them both to sell (she wants the commission) and has a slew of difficult New Yorkers coming to make their lives miserable.
Every single character outside of Ruth & Alex exemplifies the worst of New York City
The situational irony of 5 Flights Up has a not so elderly couple looking to sell the apartment they love and move down the street, because they cannot leave New York. Yet the entire film is about how rude the people are, how dangerous the city can be and how old people really have no place in “the greatest city in the world”. It’s a head scratcher for sure, each character we meet, even their own Niece, exemplifies all the things people who don’t live in the big apple despise. The film also has a really unnecessary subplot involving a possible Muslim terrorist on the loose (which is apparently driving the market price down). The most innocent character in the film is Dorothy who shivers, shakes and whimpers as she is having a CAT scan, wondering if her owners will fork over the thousands of dollars needed for surgery.
I wish this story had more meat on its bones, or could have been expressed through a city or location that actually felt as if it was worth fighting for. Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) on paper might have been just the right agitating person to create stress for Ruth & Alex, but her character is written so vile that each moment with her we feel as overwhelmed as Alex. The flashbacks provide a lot of depth to the characters that Keaton and Freeman cannot summon. It’s an enjoyable film for the most part because the target demographic should be able to identify with the problems at hand. Sadly Keaton and Freeman don’t muster enough chemistry to makes us love their characters and by the end of the film the only thing we know for sure is that New York City is that last place we want to live.
Sends mixed signals about its own message.