May 8, 2015 PG-13 for language and some nude images. (MPAA)
“5 Flights Up,” a film based on Jill Ciment’s novel, “Heroic Measures,” is a cute dramedy about getting older in New York City – Brooklyn, to be exact. So, it features flashbacks … no surprise. It also features light jokes that spring from the well of stereotypical old age: cell-phone jokes, jokes about being ignored, and the like. All of this is accompanied by instrumental music that alternates between the sprightly and the sentimental. It’s … sweet.
Since Morgan Freeman’s in it, he has to do the voice-over, right? How could anyone resist? So, “5 Flights Up” is partially told from his character’s perspective. At times, we see things through his eyes, especially during some of the flashbacks. Freeman plays Alex, an artist who’s married to Diane Keaton’s Ruth. Their relationship is typical: She’s sentimental; he’s not. She wants to take care of things and is responsible (“Did you take your medicine?”); he’s worried about money. Got the idea? It’s all very clichéd. (We see things through her eyes, too, by the way.)
Alex and Ruth live in a walk-up apartment that’s five flights up, hence the title. They’ve lived there for 40 years – that’s a lot of memories. Since they’re getting older, they’ve decided to sell the place and move somewhere with an elevator and enough space for Alex’s studio. But, of course, Alex isn’t quite sure about selling their apartment, despite Ruth’s enthusiasm and the optimism of her niece, Lily (Cynthia Nixon), who’s their real estate agent. (Can you see where this is going?) But their neighborhood has changed over the decades. After all, a Starbucks just opened nearby. Gentrification, here we come!
To complicate matters further, their 10-year-old dog, Dorothy (yes, there’s a dog), has taken ill. (She was a present from Alex to Ruth.) And, there’s a truck on the Brooklyn Bridge that might have a terrorist’s bomb in it. (Yes, you read that correctly.) We and they are told about this via faux news footage. But the whole terrorism angle is forced. It doesn’t belong. Uh uh, not at all. Come on now. … Anyway, this terrorist threat makes it harder for them to get to their dog’s veterinarian, and it causes concern among their potential buyers. However, despite how that sounds, the tone remains light throughout, which isn’t fully successful. Regardless, this isn’t heavy stuff.
“5 Flights Up” isn’t the kind of film that requires much of anything. Charlie Peters’ script is charmingly inauthentic. It’s closer to that of a romantic comedy than to that of a drama. And Richard Loncraine’s direction is unobtrusive. Much of this film comes across more like a play than a film. So, it’s simply an excuse to watch Freeman and Keaton do what Freeman and Keaton do. But, this time, they do it together. One example is a scene at the couple’s open house. The apartment is full of … New Yorkers … and their children. You can imagine exactly how this turns out. Freeman and Keaton breeze through that scene without much effort. The same could be said of the entire film.
Forty years ago, artist Alex Carver (Morgan Freeman) bought a run-down apartment in a sketchy part of Brooklyn with his wife, schoolteacher Ruth (Diane Keaton). Today, their neighborhood is now very hip and their apartment worth a small fortune. The now- retired Ruth and Alex haven’t changed – they are still as much in love as ever. But they have let Ruth’s niece Lily (Cynthia Nixon), a real estate agent, list their property to see what the market might bear.
On the eve of their open house, the Brooklyn Bridge is rumored to be under a terrorist attack, sending the media into a frenzy and people’s attitudes about living in New York. Closer to home, Dorothy, the Carver’s beloved dog, is suddenly having trouble walking.
While Dorothy is having expensive treatment at the vet, Ruth convinces Alex to go apartment hunting in Manhattan, where they miraculously come across an ideal place they might actually be able to afford. As the world around them seems to mirror their own chaos and confusion, Ruth and Alex realize the same bond of love that has kept them together all these years will allow them to see their way through this crazy weekend as well.