Is Anybody There?
Call it a pre-emptive breath of fresh air in the typically testosterone-soaked summer season if you'd like, "Is Anybody There?" is counterprogramming at its best.
Edward (Bill Milner of "Son of Rambow") is a precocious boy who wants nothing more than the attention of his parents (and his room back), who have turned their home into a haven for the elderly. In a place where death is common occurrence, it's no wonder Edward has become fascinated with that subject. Where do people go after they die? Can we speak to them?
When a retired magician named Clarence (Michael Caine) stumbles in to take the place of a recently departed tenant, Edward is disappointed, and turns his bitterness on Clarence.
But Clarence is more than a match for the youngster, even if he is suffering from a mild case of dementia.
You can probably guess from here Clarence and Edward spark a friendship and teach each other about life, love, loss, and all of those other things.
Caine leads a terrific cast that includes David Morrissey as Edward's father, a man entering a midlife crisis and making eyes as the pretty young thing that works for him (Linzey Cocker). Meanwhile, Edward's mom (Anne-Marie Duff) is at her wit's wend, too busy cleaning up messes and keeping the family financially afloat to deal with either Edward or his dad.
The film has a fierce sense of humor, no easy task in a film dealing with death and the elderly. In one scene Clarence attempts suicide, only to be found and thwarted by Edward. Later, he chides the boy for saving him.
Caine is on his game here, delivering a pitch-perfect performance as a man who thinks he's too coherent and sturdy for an old folks' home, and resents even the implication that he should be there.
But Milner is a revelation, holding his own with heavyweights like Caine and Morrissey and evoking memories of Freddie Highmore.
"There" is a marvelously low-key picture, a witty waltz through a potential bramble bush of a narrative. Director John Crowley dances on the line between unflinching comedy and sensitivity to its subjects, making light without coming off as cruel.
Rating: 4.5 Yaps out of 5