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Set in 1980s seaside England, this is the story of Edward, an unusual ten year old boy growing up in an old people's home run by his parents. Whilst his mother struggles to keep the family business afloat, and his father copes with the onset of mid-life crisis, Edward is busy tape-recording the elderly residents to try and discover what happens when they die. Increasingly obsessed with ghosts and the afterlife, Edward's is a rather lonely existence until he meets Clarence, the latest recruit to the home, a retired magician with a liberating streak of anarchy. Is Anybody There? tells the story of this odd couple - a boy and an old man - facing life together, with Edward learning to live in the moment and Clarence coming to terms with the past. Written by
Leslie Phillips spoke out against this film after is was released, as he said it had been completely changed from the story he and the other elderly actors were making about an old people's home, in order to concentrate on the relationship between Michael Caine and the boy. See more »
Some think the father's mustache at the party is a continuity error as he shaved it off that morning. However, it is a fancy dress party and the father is clearly wearing a fake mustache to go with his costume. See more »
I'm not scared. I just want to know what happens.
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There is a hazy feeling permeating through "Is Anybody There?" as the perception of life for the 10-year-old protagonist is affected by the impermanence of the elderly residents living at home. Edward, who has been asked by his parents to give up his bedroom to accommodate residents in the house they have converted into a rest home, struggles with the concept of death as the elderly around him decay and die. He tries to record evidence of the existence of the soul while his obsession makes him an outsider at school and in his own home. The scenes are clearly his memories: this is the mid-80s with "Back to the Future" at the movie theater and "Come on Eileen" on the radio, his parents' quarrels, the boring classroom, his anger at the situation, and old folks dropping dead.
Clarence, played masterfully by Michael Caine, is a former vaudeville magician referred by social services and in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer's, who becomes a new resident in the home against his wishes. Eventually, Clarence's bitter cynicism is lifted by Edward's ebullience and they bond but despite magic tricks and tenderness their moments will be far from perfect and they will not necessarily alter their belief system and be wiser.
This movie does not follow the contrived formula of the old person/young person plot written and performed countless times, often sweetened with sentimentality and conveying the idea that both lives will change for the better. The older one, often bitter or jaded, learns to love again and spends his/her last days as a better human being thanks to the younger one's candor and energy, while, the inexperienced younger one learns the bittersweet lessons of living and dying from the older one. Sometimes, the formula is inverted and the elderly is optimistic and energetic teaching a child how to open up to life while the young one brings grounding common sense. "Is anybody There?" it is not this type of movie, there are no big lessons and imparting of wisdom. It is just a short tale of two lost souls meeting and departing and the process of aging and dying at a rest home. The scenes do not try to be sentimental or evoke notion of what is living and dying but search for a realistic tone showing the elderly and the rest home daily living under a natural light.
Michael Caine's poignant vulnerable performance as a man living on a meager pension in his last days while still trying to maintain his dignity is award-worthy. Prodigious young actor Bill Milner (who was fantastic in "Son of Rambow") is a perfect match creating a delightful portrait of a lonely, confused and angry boy who is too smart for his own good.
If you are the type of viewer you enjoy conventional dramas or comedies that involve children and seniors, this movie may not be for your. If you wish to watch a British slice of life where a boy and an old man come together for a brief shining moment as one is growing and the other dying, this movie is perfection.
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