5 Flights Up (Film Review)

2.5 / 5

After 15 years of slogging around the UK on Location, Location, Location, Kirstie and Phil must have exhausted the supply of people who need their advice. I’ve got news for them. There’s a vacancy in New York. At least, if 5 Flights Up (released in the UK as Ruth And Alex) is anything to go by. The home buying market over there clearly needs a good helping of Kirstie’s bossiness and Phil’s affable charm – and they’d do the film a power of good as well.

Ruth and Alex (Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman) have been married for over 40 years, living for nearly all that time in one Brooklyn flat. Their area has come up in the world, there’s no lift to get up the five floors to their apartment so it seems like the right time to move. With a niece who’s a real estate agent, it should be easy to sell up and find somewhere new. But an emergency in the nearby Brooklyn Bridge is just one of the things getting in the way.

5 Flights Up has the look and feel of something aimed very much at the grey market, and it trades very much on that and the appeal of its two leads. As a rule, Keaton or Freeman – or both – would be a good reason by themselves to see a film. The trouble is this slight little tale relies far too much on their appeal – to the extent that it just coasts.

As they clearly weren’t able to get Kirstie and Phil to give it some pep, a decent sub-plot would have been the next best thing. There’s something approximating one in the form of their beloved terrier having a life-saving operation, something that will no doubt give the heart strings of any animal lovers watching a gentle tug. But that’s as close as it gets and it really isn’t enough. There’s also the explanation for the incident on the Brooklyn Bridge, which is all told through the TV in the background. It’s a tanker hi-jack, the suspect is on the run and he’s probably a terrorist. And if it’s meant to provide a reason for the traffic jams and the likelihood of people not wanting to buy their apartment, it’s a really poor piece of judgement on the part of the writer and director.

There are real opportunities in the film to address genuine issues. Racial attitudes in the 70s when the couple met and married and the downsides of aging are just two but every time the film comes close to looking at them in any depth, they’re immediately brushed under the carpet. Instead, we have a thin story padded out with all the haggling that goes with buying a new apartment. How much to bid? What offer to accept? What should they write as a personal statement? Do we want to know this much about the New York house buying system? Not really, and the American audiences who saw this earlier in the year will have been even less interested. There’s so much detail that you expect product placement or sponsorship from an estate agent.

Take all the buying and selling shenanigans out of 5 Flights Up and there’s not much left apart from a loving older couple with a cute little dog and an apartment that they love. Keaton and Freeman are hardly challenged by their roles and breeze through the film like they’re on a week off. It’s undemanding and disappointingly underwhelming.

Freda Cooper, FredaCooper.wordpress.com

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