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Family Movie Review: 5 Flights Up (PG-13)

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MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 93 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. The film is aimed pretty squarely at older audiences, but it could be a good one for grandparents and teenage grandchildren. Some cursing, some nudity in art (an apron depicting a woman’s breasts, a portrait depicting a nude woman), a couple’s infertility is a plot point, some jokes about sex, and some racist behavior.

Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton search for the perfect apartment, and consider their married life after decades together, in the older-skewing ‘5 Flights Up.’ Their performances are fine but inconsequential, and the film is the same way.

By Roxana Hadadi

Trying to find a good apartment can be a nightmare, and “5 Flights Up” realizes this. The quiet, older-skewing drama presents Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton as a married couple thinking about selling their Brooklyn five-flight-walk-up and moving somewhere else, but the choice has them considering their lives together and all the other decisions they’ve made through the decades. The film doesn’t spend too long gazing backward, but the main problem of “5 Flights Up” is just that it’s not very interesting.

The themes, and the jokes, are eye-rollingly broad: Can older people, theoretically set in their ways, adapt to new circumstances and new challenges? Who will offer more for Ruth (Keaton, of “And So It Goes”) and Alex’s (Freeman, of “Dolphin Tale 2”) apartment, the lesbian couple overzealous about their training of a service dog, or a terribly abrasive therapist who wants to tear apart the condo to create a new office space? Will their realtor, Ruth’s irritatingly cheery realtor, be able to find them something better, or will she melt down? These characters are all types, not people, and although the film is narrated by Alex and peppered with flashbacks to the early days of their marriage, “5 Flights Up” doesn’t really round anyone out.

There’s something comfortable about Keaton and Freeman together, though, even if they seem less like a married couple and more like friendly roommates. So as they navigate through everything—their dog Dorothy becoming quite ill, their realtor pushing their boundaries with her critiques of how they live (“All the books gotta go away,” she sniffs when she sees Ruth’s collection before an open house), the dealer of Alex’s art turning his business over to his lumpish, patronizing son—they at least have a believable bond.
Could they really get $1 million for the Brooklyn condo they bought all those years ago, when the borough felt like an “outpost”? But will they feel comfortable turning over their place to the people who live in the neighborhood now, the “hipsters and gentrifiers, their heads buried in their smartphones,” that Alex disdains? And as much as Alex and Ruth argue now (“I plan for the worst and I hope for the best,” he explains), how will they ever agree on another place to live?

For the most part, the film moves along briskly, which mirrors how rapidly the New York City real estate business is supposed to function; there isn’t time to waste, and the film feels that urgency in how often it forces Ruth and Alex to make decisions that they might not be fully ready for. But there’s a strange subplot about an oil tanker driver who may be Muslim and may be a terrorist, and a manhunt for whom takes over the city while Ruth and Alex are trying to sell their condo, that is unclear and momentum-killing. Are all the assumptions made about the man on behalf of the media and the city’s citizens meant to be mirror how Ruth and Alex are judged every day for their older age, for their liberal arts careers, for their interracial marriage? Or is the subplot meant to show a further side of what it’s like to be a New Yorker post-Sept. 11, 2001? It could be either, but also neither, and sometimes feels like a subplot just thrown in for the sake of having a subplot.

What works best about “5 Flights Up” is the film’s sense of time, of how long Ruth and Alex have spent together and how so much of their lives has grown and prospered and then faded away in four walls. There’s a bit of melodrama here (like when Alex tours an apartment with particularly bad window placement and says, “Maybe views are for younger people who still have things to look at”), but also poignancy, like when he considers his artistic career (“Who thought that the whole of my life’s work would be worth less than the room I painted it in?”) and whether Ruth is even happy (“Haven’t we built a good life?”). Amid all the mocking of hipsters and the silly open houses and the sniping between a married couple who knows each other too well, those quiet moments ring truest in “5 Flights Up.”

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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