Michael Caine & Bill Milner in "Is Anybody There?" the Movie
It is a trembly and vulnerable Michael Caine we see in "Is Anybody There?" -- a finely drawn and gentle British drama propelled by another of the star's unforgettable screen portraits.
Caine plays Clarence, an aging magician struggling to keep hold of his dignity and his mind in the face of the pitiless approach of old age.
He has been packed off to Lark Hall, an old-age home in a small seaside town, where he discovers an unexpected friendship with Edward (Bill Milner), an inquisitive but pensive 10-year-old whose family runs and lives in the house with a clientele that is forever departing.
"Is Anybody There?" might sound dark and depressing.
It is anything but, in no small part due to Caine, whose wonderfully nuanced performance is the film's centerpiece -- whether he's staging an escape with a nonchalant slip out the door, or letting the props of the magic trade draw out his memories.
Director John Crowley and Peter Harness' semiautobiographical screenplay is a character-driven study that is neither too sentimental nor too clinical as lives unfold and then exit from the small stage they've created. There are no long monologues about the meaning of life and the implications of death.
Instead we see it in understated touches everywhere -- the ambulances that pull up in front of the house are in no hurry, knowing the curtain has already fallen.
Young Edward, still adjusting to the realities of living among the elderly, is a lonely child, intent on unlocking the mysteries of death and hopefully capturing evidence of an afterlife on the tape recorder he strategically places to record the residents' last moments.
Clarence, on the other hand, though tossed about by life and hit hard by the loss of his wife, intends to wrestle with the indignities of aging until the end.
There is discontent and frustration in the air when this odd couple first encounter each other -- Clarence sure that he shouldn't be in a retirement home at all and Edward angry that there is yet another tenant moving in to what used to be his bedroom.
Almost without realizing it, they begin to set aside self-interest to help each other out, with Clarence teaching Edward card tricks so that he can survive the dreaded birthday party his mum (Anne-Marie Duff) has planned for him, and Edward devising a way to take Clarence on a trip to the grave of his wife.
There is such an easy grace between Clarence and Edward, with Caine giving young Milner (a standout in "Son of Rambow") plenty of space to hold the screen with him, and for the most part he does. The two become almost inseparable as they meander through the house and the English countryside, all the while having the kind of conversations that make you wish they'd let you eavesdrop for a long time.
"Is Anybody There?" Movie Trailer
Is Anybody There? MPAA rating: PG-13 (for language including sexual references and some disturbing images).
Running time: 1:34.
Starring: Michael Caine (Clarence); Bill Milner (Edward); Anne-Marie Duff (Mum); David Morrissey (Dad).
Directed by John Crowley;
Written by Peter Harness;
Produced by David Heyman, Marc Turtletaub and Peter Sarah.
A Story Island Entertainment release.
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