Completely reliant on the warmth and goodwill generated by its stars (rather than, say, its writing), this AARP-oriented dramedy strikes all the familiar chords. Retired schoolteacher Ruth (Diane Keaton) and non-selling painter Alex (Morgan Freeman) are finding it a chore to huff up the stairs of their sprawling, sun-washed corner Brooklyn apartment. Nor can their beloved old dog—the Carvers are childless—easily make the climb. The place could be worth a million after 40 years in a now-gentrified hood (Williamsburg, from the look of it). It’s time for an elevator building; time to ask, as Ruth does, “What about later?” Who will care for them? Can they age in place? Suddenly their dog has a medical crisis, which is both a major plot point and a harbinger of their own future.
With a niece (Cynthia Nixon, from Sex and the City) acting as their broker, they put their place on the market and are present during the open house (!)—indicating how British director Richard Loncraine isn’t unduly concerned with realism here. (The movie’s adapted from Jill Ciment’s novel Heroic Measures, an Oprah Book Club pick.) The pushy-nosy apartment shoppers are predictably ridiculed, unlike the ever-dignified Carvers. However, 5 Flights Up does make the usual ageist jokes at Alex’s expense. (He forgets his hearing aids! He can’t use a computer! He holds Ruth’s iPhone wrong side to his ear! Are you rolling in the aisles yet?) It’s hard to be annoyed by such gentle mediocrity, though I do have to wonder why Alex gets all the wise voiceovers—wasn’t this a marriage of equals?
The sick dog, real-estate haggling, and specious subplot about a fugitive Muslim terrorist—unless he’s not—all turn out to be tremendously mundane. It’s hard to see why we need a feature film about this—but for the welcome chance to enjoy Keaton and Freeman coasting in what’s essentially a TV movie. The only novelty comes from the double casting of young ’70s Ruth and Alex (the likable Claire van der Boom and Korey Jackson), who bring some energy and awareness of the difficulties in what was then called a mixed marriage. Then there’s the shock ending, guaranteed to divide audiences along generational lines. Boomers will be furious at the Carvers’ stubborn irrationality. Those in their 70s and beyond will find reassurance. Realism can wait for the dread later of another day.
5 FLIGHTS UP Opens Fri., May 8 at Sundance Cinemas. Rated PG-13. 92 minutes.