5 Flights Up (2014)

5 Flights Up (2014)
  • Time: 92 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Richard Loncraine
  • Cast: Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, Carrie Preston, Cynthia Nixon


A long-time married couple who’ve spent their lives together in the same New York apartment become overwhelmed by personal and real estate-related issues when they plan to move away.


  • “I wish a lot of things,” Alex (Morgan Freeman) tells his longtime wife Ruth (Diane Keaton). One wishes a lot of things for 5 Flights Up: a more ambitious script, less cavalier-seeming direction from Richard Loncraine, and more for its Oscar-winning leads than this oddly stagnant piffle.

    Married for four decades, Alex and Ruth have seen their Brooklyn neighbourhood mutate from an out of fashion borough to one overrun with hipsters and gentrifiers. They are fortunate enough to live in an apartment where Alex’s studio affords plenty of light for his painting as well as a view of the bridge. Their walk-up is beloved but becoming increasingly impractical – even their aging dog Dorothy is disheartened at having to walk up five flights of stairs.

    Ruth and Alex decide to dip their toes in the real estate market with the help of Ruth’s bulldozing real-estate-agent niece Lily (Cynthia Nixon), who arranges an open house for them. Alex is uncertain about a potential move; he certainly does not appreciate the prospect of his home smelling like cinnamon sticks (Lily says it will make the apartment seem homey; Alex says it smells like a whorehouse) or of people invading their space or of young couples condescending to him because of his age.

    Several subplots come to the fore to expand the main plot. There’s Dorothy’s hospitalisation for a spinal injury, which is a cause of both emotional and financial concern. Surgery will deplete them of ten thousand dollars, but how far are they willing to go to keep her alive? Alex takes a practical approach whilst the fretful Ruth wants to do whatever it takes to keep their Dorothy alive. Then there’s the citywide manhunt for a suspected terrorist who left a gasoline truck jack-knifed on the Brooklyn Bridge. Its dominance on the news stations frustrates Lily, who worries the alleged terrorist on the loose will drive away potential buyers.

    There are also flashbacks to Ruth and Alex’s younger days, when their biracial marriage was more of an issue. Claire van der Boom and Korey Jackson do a highly commendable job of embodying Keaton and Freeman’s distinctive mannerisms, which makes it all the more disappointing how feebly supported they all are by the narrative. It’s puzzling to pinpoint exactly how a story with so many potentially interesting narrative threads could feel so inconsequential. None of the subplots gain any traction, nor do they coalesce into something greater than the sum of their parts.

    A lack of investment runs through the film. Dorothy’s situation, for all the time it takes up, is dealt with in an offhand manner as if the seriousness of the matter was acknowledged but not necessarily understood. Loncraine seems satisfied for 5 Flights Up to be stagey and lax. There’s an over-reliance on Keaton and Freeman, who are wonderful to watch together and apart, but who simply cannot overcome the film’s deficiencies.

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  • “5 Flights up” is an easy-going film about an old married couple (Alex and Ruth) who came to the conclusion that after living in that part of Brooklyn for about 40 years, where they bought a cozy apartment, the time came to leave all this behind and find another place to live. For all sorts of reasons. First, the neighborhood is no longer as it was before and is engulfed by a younger generation. And also the lack of a lift became a daily obstacle for the house owner and their old dog. Eventually, they decide to sell their apartment and they leave this in the hands of a niece who knows the tricks in this business. And before they realize it, their apartment is occupied by potential buyers who can be divided into several categories: candidates who are determined to seize this unique opportunity with both hands, the yuppies who want to redesign the entire floor, the real estate tourists who just come their to watch television and eat some snacks and even someone who’s always trying out the bed. Alex doesn’t feel at home anymore, despite it’s still his own apartment and it’s not even sold yet.

    For the two protagonists alone, I necessarily wanted to see this movie. Not that I’m a big fan of Diana Keaton, who usually plays a corny, traditional mother in some romantic comedy where someone is getting married once again (a film such as “The Big Wedding”). Although I could appreciate her performance in “The Family Stone”, even though she played again the mother hen. But “5 Flights up” was perfect for her. A serene and formal older woman who even in the most hectic and stressful situations, remains calm. She’s hardened by the past when she made the decision to marry an Afro-American. Compared to that every setback is just peanuts.

    I was particularly curious about how Morgan Freeman would play his part. After a succession of meaningless roles in both brilliant films as soon-to-be-forgotten films, like “Olympus Has Fallen”, “Oblivion”, “Now you see me”, “Last Vegas”, “Transcendence”, “Lucy” and “Last Knights”, it was once again time for this brilliant actor to being featured in an entire movie. And he lived up to my expectations. Flawlessly he acquitted himself of his task : the spouse who’s still in love with his wife after all these years, the cheerful artist who rather withdraws into his studio while strangers are wandering through his flat, the worried owner of a pet that needs medical assistance (no matter what it costs) and the resolute decision maker who ultimately decides about what’s rightfully his. Formidable performance.

    Only the script is kind of dull to keep things interesting. Admittedly, the situations arising from the sale are frequently humorous and engaging. But a whole film just about selling an apartment with on the one hand the financial advantage and on the other hand a pile of memories that needs to be left behind, is still only limited material to work with. The message that this film conveys is that money can’t replace nostalgic musings and feelings. A sunrise is nowhere the same and you’ll have to forget certain habits and situations from the past. It’s beautifully imaged with flashbacks that don’t seem to be disturbing, with a touch of melancholy and sadness on top. A smile and a tear. But just as in real life, selling a house isn’t particularly exciting and entertaining. That was for me the only downside of it all. But Freeman starring back again like this after a long time, made it bearable.

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