Four decades ago, Alex (Morgan Freeman) and Ruth (Diane Keaton) bought their walk up apartment in Brooklyn. Now, the climb up all those stairs takes its toll on the couple and their little, old dog Dorothy and they decide to sell their place “5 Flights Up.”
Based on Jill Ciment’s 2009 novel Heroic Measures, director Richard Locaine and scenarist Charlie Peters tell the story of an aging couple coping with change. Alex and Ruth have had the same routines all of their married life in their cozy apartment. Things change when their beloved Dorothy needs to go to the vet, where they learn that she needs an operation – to the tune of $10000+ - and they decide to sell.
With the help of Ruth’s niece, Lily (Cynthia Nixon), a realtor, they put their apartment on the market. This puts the couple in the uncomfortable position of being there when the prospective buyers stream through, often making themselves at home. They also have to face the daunting task of finding a new home (with an elevator). As absurdist as these interludes often are, anybody that has had to sell or buy a home will see that there is a core of truth here about human nature.
Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman exude chemistry as an aging couple who are thoroughly comfortable with their life and each other. Their story, grounded in believability, is populated with a bevy of quirky characters as the troop of apartment gawkers, including a young girl, Zoe (Sterling Jerins), who befriends Alex.
And, let us not forget little Dorothy. Her plight with doctors and operations is an integral part of the drama and will have an effect on anyone with a sick pet. This and the other glimpses into Ruth’s and Alex’s daily routine and exchange all ring true. I expected “5 Flights Up” to be just OK but the film and its main characters struck a chord within me. I give it a B+.
When they were married forty years prior, struggling artist Alex Carver (Korey Jackson) could only afford an apartment in a dicey Brooklyn neighborhood for his new wife Ruth (Claire van der Boom, "The Square"). Now senior citizens, even Alex (Morgan Freeman) and Ruth's (Diane Keaton) 10 year-old terrier Dorothy is struggling with their walk-up. But their neighborhood has gentrified and Ruth's realtor niece Lily (Cynthia Nixon, "Sex and the City") tells them they could get as much as a million for their two bedroom even though it is "5 Flights Up."
Originally titled "Ruth & Alex," "5 Flights Up" is the latest addition to the NYC real estate genre ("Please Give," "Love Is Strange") that soars over one major yet inconsequential plotting bump on the charms of its leads and its humorous insights into the emotional upheaval of selling and buying a home. A flashback structure is used to show the courtship and early days of Alex and Ruth's marriage, one which was controversial in its time yet is happily uncommented upon (with one possibly implied racist reaction) in the present day.
As Ruth anxiously prepares for an open house, she and Alex must also face their beloved pooch's potentially life-threatening ailment (and its tremendously expensive treatment options). There is also a looming threat to real estate prices and potential buyers in a terrorist threat unveiling on the Williamsburg Bridge, which complicates their travel to a Manhattan vet (What? There are no veterinary practices in Brooklyn? In adapting Jill Ciment's semi-autobiographical 'Heroic Measures,' screenwriter Charlie Peters ("My One and Only") struggles to update the events of 9/11, which were a partial inspiration for Ciment's book, when he should have jettisoned the whole subplot, a distraction with no payoff.)
The film is at its most enjoyable as Ruth and Alex react to the stream of strangers who parade through their home. The first couple consists of a disagreeable Wall Streeter forced to downscale and his apologetic wife. There is an interested lesbian couple vying against a psychotherapist Ruth takes an instant dislike to. There is the mother who must lie on beds to get a feel for the place and her adorable daughter Zoe (Keaton's "And So It Goes" costar Sterling Jerins), who strikes up a friendship with Alex. There are the two guys who park themselves in front of the television, the obnoxious kid with the enabling mom and the lookie loo who cheerfully announces she has no intention of buying but is full of comments. Even more fun is the ingenious way most of these characters are reintroduced in new locations.
Keaton's tightly wound chatter is beautifully balanced by Freeman's laid back ease, a formula which works for their onscreen marriage. Jackson isn't the greatest physical match for the young Alex, but van der Boom is well cast as the young Ruth and both actors do a fine job establishing their early relationship, with Alex's paintings, deemed 'clutter' by Lily, providing portals from present to past (the artwork is based upon the paintings of Arnold Mesches, the novelist's husband). Director Richard Loncraine ("Wimbledon," "My One and Only") makes great use of limited locations, opening up (and in one case closing down) space with the realtor's much commented upon light.
There is little suspense in where "5 Flights Up" is headed, but Keaton and Freeman's movie marriage is a good investment.
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