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Based on a novel called "Heroic Measures," it was renamed "Life Itself," then "Ruth and Alex," then "5 Flights Up." See more »
The central characters say (two times) that they are buying an apartment on 1st Avenue and 77th Street and when they enter the apartment (also two times) it's clearly off Amsterdam Avenue on Cathedral Parkway, which is around 110th Street in West Harlem/Morningside Heights - more than 2 miles from where they are supposed to be. These two neighborhoods don't look alike at all. See more »
When Ruth and I first moved to Brooklyn, it was like an outpost. To our friends in Manhattan, we might as well have moved to Nebraska. It was out of fashion, but a good place for a struggling artist like me. And we liked it, which was good, because it was all we could afford.
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A feel-good film with some respectful insight into real complications
If I were to say that 5 Flights Up was a loosely structured film involving an aging couple, the real estate market, hectic home bidding, terrorism, a dog with lethal problems, interracial marriage, and painting, you'd probably be endlessly confused. However, I wouldn't be misleading you nor would I be shortchanging the film's story. For a film with an A-list cast and from a fairly large studio, it's strange for something like this to be so largely plot less and breezy, yet so thematically impacting. If nothing else, the film furthers my belief that you ultimately don't need a concrete plot or "point-A-to-point-B" style events to make an impacting film; you need strong characters or strong dialog, but if you have two, you're golden.
The film focuses on Ruth and Alex Carver (Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman), an older couple looking to sell their old-fashioned Brooklyn apartment through their real estate agent Lilly (Cynthia Nixon). Due to the apartment's location and one-of-a-kind structure, the spacious home could be worth as much as $1 million and, under current circumstances, both Ruth and Alex want to get as much money possible. Though it's evident that the couple have talked selling their apartment to death, one can tell that they're quietly heartbroken to be leaving it behind, especially Alex, who has made one of the rooms his workstation for his many paintings.
Both Ruth and Alex find themselves immersed in the world of real estate buying and selling upon holding an open house and exploring other apartments in the city. They find themselves bombarded with potential buyers they are either not personally fond of or questioning whether or not they will take care of the home and love it as much as they did. While this search goes on, Ruth and Alex's dog winds up falling prey to a ruptured disc in her back, requiring expensive surgery in addition to the repeated coverage of a potential terrorist attack perpetrated by an assumed Muslim extremist when a large oil tanker is left on the Williamsburg Bridge.
Just by this description, one gets a feel of the looseness in 5 Flights Up. It would appear that writer Charles Peters attempted to make a film that was invested in real-life situations, particularly the kind that come about when trying to sell a home or an apartment in the wake of the biggest housing crisis in American history. Few films I can recall have painted the constant struggle and fuss over selling and buying a home in such a powerfully telling way, right down to the incessant "bidding wars" between interested clients and the dictation of a real estate agent. Such an experience is an endless cycle of monotony, false leads, and confusion and director Richard Loncraine portrays it as if the characters are operating on a field of landmines.
There's also examination of the generation gap here in a boldly subtle way. Consider Freeman trying to prove himself and his abilities to much younger, disinterested art buyers, or even the multitude of spoiled and unruly young guests that come through his home. Ruth and Alex are on their way out in numerous respects in this film, but as the film gets going, we see that they're soon to be out of their home, their element, and most importantly, time to prove themselves in a world that's rapidly changing and quickly leaving people like them behind.
Much has been made about the terrorist subplot which, in many scenes, does come out of left field and provides for a jarring tonal shift. However, if one looks at it like in the same way an announcement of any kind by Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellin sends financial markets into a tizzy, one can see its relevance, even if it does add a touch of awkwardness to the film's story.
5 Flights Up may not have the narrative structure of its contemporaries, but it damn sure understands the current state of baby boomers and sentimentality better than a lot of them. It's a film of moments and strong lead performances, with Keaton and Freeman proving through each collective and low-key scene why their performances are always highly praised. While this is a film along the lines of the feel-good flick you're likely predicting, just know if you're going to have your emotions tickled by a movie, you might as well have it done by a film that's respectful of its characters and somewhat insightful.
Starring: Diane Keaton, Morgan Freeman, and Cynthia Nixon. Directed by: Richard Loncraine.
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