If you follow New York City real estate, savor any opportunity to watch Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman on screen, or melt when you see a cute dog in a movie, you should enjoy 5 Flights Up, a gentle look at how people who age consider where to live. But if you need special effects, action sequences or loud music to accompany your popcorn, you should move on. This gentle movie about gentle people entertains as it enlightens, even though it could be stronger.
Set in the trendy Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, 5 Flights Up finds the reliable Keaton and Freeman as senior citizens facing a dilemma: should they sell their walk-up apartment where they have lived for 40 some years? Without an elevator, climbing the five flights has become a chore for the couple and their aging canine, a captivating pooch who secures his own subplot. One weekend day they open their apartment for a niece who sells real estate (an exaggerated Cynthia Nixon) to bring in a collection of New Yorkers who love open houses. As Keaton and Freeman wonder, “where can we be safe and comfortable in our later years,” they watch a parade of eccentric characters react to the apartment they love despite its inconveniences.
Anyone familiar with New York City real estate would savor their dilemma after seeing this apartment. With those five flights come lots of room, a lovely view of the city and a serene rooftop garden. But Keaton and Freeman think that people their age should move to new places. They toss and turn about what to do as they remember how they found the apartment and each other (in a collection of too many flashbacks) and listen to current news reports of a possible terrorist plot on the Williamsburg Bridge (a distracting storyline). These unnecessary plot devices make the narrative as crowded as an over-filled closet that begs to be decluttered. Instead, the film should limit its focus to Keaton, Freeman and the choices they face. Their situation is captivating enough to fill the film’s 92 minutes. And we all face the choice of where to live when we fear we’re to old to stay in the place we call home.
It’s no surprise the stars are wonderful in roles that remind us why we love watching them at the movies. Keaton brings her strong instinct and intelligence to a woman who, long ago, decided to live outside the expectations for convention, while Freeman thrives as a free spirit who simply wants to breathe. Unfortunately, writer Charlie Peters and director Richard Loncraine fail to let these actors fill the movie with their deliberations. Instead the creators introduce unnecessary conflicts — repeated encounters with potential buyers, a stuffy art gallery owner — that detract from the central story. These superflous details get in the way of what is meaningful in a film that wants to be better.
Ultimately, Five Flights Up tells us less about real estate, aging or pet care than it offers a chance to savor these wonderful actors. Keaton and Freeman can do anything. I wish, this time, they had been given more.
Film Nutritional Value
Five Flights Up
* Content: Medium. The idea of senior citizens struggling to decide where to live offers more potential than moviemakers Richard Loncraine and Charlie Peters pursue.
* Entertainment: Medium. While Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman create magic, the script’s lack of focus prevents them from going deeper.
* Message: High. Although the film follows too many subplots, its central question about how senior citizens can and should live is compelling.
* Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to consider how to make major life decisions — even as adults — can be worthwhile.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. While the film could be more focused, it offers a good opportunity to talk as a family about the issues of aging parents.
(5 Flights Up is rated PG-13 for “language and some nude images.” The film runs 92 minutes. It is available at area theaters and on iTunes.)
3-1/2 Popcorn Buckets