DVD Review: 5 Flights Up

FligtsBluSTUDIO: Universal | DIRECTOR: Richard Loncraine | CAST: Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, Cynthia Nixon, Claire van der Boom, Korey Jackson, Carrie Preston
RELEASE DATE: 7/7/15 | PRICE: DVD $19.98, Blu-ray $26.98
SPECS: PG-13 | 93 min. | Comedy drama | 2.40:1 widescreen | DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 | English, French and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie   | Audio | Video  | Overall

More and more, I’ve come to appreciate the value of films that may have few redeeming qualities, but nevertheless offer late-career star turns by beloved actors. Xanadu (1980), for example, will always be able to justify its existence simply because it features the rare gem of a still-lighter-than-air, 70-something Gene Kelly hoofing like a far younger man, even if that gem is set among the cinematic equivalent of fool’s gold. 5 Flights Up, out this week on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital, may be on firmer creative ground than Xanadu. But it’s still a mostly forgettable movie, justified primarily by the performances of Diane Keaton (Love and Death, Morning Glory), and Morgan Freeman (Driving Miss Daisy, Lucy).

Keaton and Freeman play the long-married Ruth and Alex Carver, now entering their euphemistic “golden years.” (Their younger selves are portrayed delightfully by Claire van der Bloom and Korey Jackson.) Way back in the ‘70s—when they were young artists struggling for money and a young interracial couple struggling for acceptance—they invested in an inexpensive, two-bedroom Brooklyn condo on the top floor of a five-story walkup. Fast forward to the present day, and the New York real-estate market has become so competitive that even apartments in Brooklyn are going for seven figures. If you’re an older couple contemplating retirement and acknowledging that daily trips up and down five flights of stairs likely won’t be feasible for much longer, then there’s no better time for you to sell—right?

FiveFlights_optProbably, but that’s not the position the film takes. The Carvers dip their toes in the New York real-estate waters, and find the current moving far more quickly than they’d anticipated. Despite almost immediately receiving a great offer for their own apartment—one that will allow them to pay cash for their dream apartment in a Manhattan elevator building (which they find with equal rapidity) and still have ten grand left over—they’re hesitant. SPOILER ALERT: By the end of the movie, and after a great deal of agonizing frenzy, they’ll decide to stay exactly where they are. The film clearly intends us to find this decision heroic.

5 Flights Up bolsters this contrarian position with a brimming basket of low-hanging fruit. The Carvers’ real estate agent/niece (Cynthia Nixon, Sex and the City) is so very pushy and condescending; the various couples tramping through Alex and Ruth’s apartment are such a cavalcade of stock, obnoxious New York types; and the Manhattan couple selling the place the Carvers want to buy are so obdurately hostile (a financial downturn is forcing them to sell against their will), that by the end of the movie we’re supposed to root for our couple to defy everybody and stay exactly where they are. Which is just what they end up doing.

Somewhere in there is a mostly incoherent subplot involving a possible terrorist running amok in Manhattan—whose shenanigans may or may not affect the asking price of the Carvers’ Brooklyn pad (don’t ask me to explain the logic, because I can’t)—as well as one involving emergency surgery for the couple’s dog. The dog is elderly, and has injured herself walking up and down five flights of stairs every day. Which is, y’know, a thing that happens when one is elderly and has to walk up and down five flights of stairs every day.

Some people, of course, are lucky enough to live to a hale and hearty old age, having never been sick a day in their lives and going peacefully in their sleep. But nobody gets out of this thing alive, and most of us will hit a couple of rungs on the ladder on our way down. Major life changes are always a bit traumatic—even when the change is a net positive—and whether you have two days or two years to prepare for them, in the moment in which they actually take place it always feels like things are happening too fast. Which is very, very far from saying that nobody should ever make a major life change. The various people pushing the Carvers to do what seems inevitable may be dolts, but that doesn’t make them wrong. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

But this isn’t a film to go into looking for deep wisdom. If you think of it instead as an afternoon spent catching up with two old friends, you’re apt to have a much better time. Just hope they do move into an elevator building eventually. Those five flights up are a hike.


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About Gwen

Gwen Cooper is a movie and TV lover and the author of Homer's Odyssey (no, not the one you're thinking of).