What a pleasure to see a simple, finely tuned dramedy about real adults with real emotions in a real-life situation.
That “5 Flights Up” exists and stars acting treasures Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman feels like a minor miracle. Directed by Richard Loncraine (“Brimstone & Treacle,” “My One and Only”), the movie tells the evocative story of retired teacher Ruth Carver (Keaton) and her artist husband, Alex (Freeman), who’ve been living in the same Brooklyn walk-up through 40 years of marriage. Though their neighborhood has been gentrified and property values have soared, they decide it’s time to trade the grueling five-flight climb to their sunny two-bedroom flat for more user-friendly digs.
To that end, Ruth enlists the help of her gung-ho niece, real estate agent Lily (Cynthia Nixon, spot on), to sell their apartment despite the more practical Alex’s misgivings. The result is a painfully funny open house in which an eclectic bunch of driven New Yorkers runs roughshod over the Carvers’ beloved home — and the couple’s souls — as Lily artfully juggles ticking-clock offers.
That same weekend, Ruth and Alex impulsively do their own apartment hunting. They end up quickly bidding on a desirable Manhattan property, but its purchase is contingent on the sale of their own place. It all proves a tricky and emotionally charged dance that causes the aging Carvers, in moments that are lovely and genuine, to take stock of their past, present and future.
As if things weren’t unnerving enough for Ruth and Alex, their adored 10-year-old dog, Dorothy, must undergo emergency spinal surgery. And, oh, yes, a suspected terrorist is also loose on the city streets, and that, it should not be understated, isn’t good for property values. Though these story strands can feel a bit wedged in, they add resonance to the main narrative.
A series of flashbacks to key moments in the Carvers’ long history, particularly of their early days together, are beautifully handled. Claire van der Boom and Korey Jackson, playing the young Ruth and Alex, deftly channel Keaton and Freeman in looks, cadence and warmth.
The script by Charlie Peters (“3 Men and a Little Lady,” “My One and Only”), based on the novel by Jill Ciment, nails the big and small details of life, love and city dwelling with humor, charm and grace, if also the occasional broad stroke. It’s all anchored by Keaton’s and Freeman’s lived-in performances that, for about 90 captivating minutes, make you forget the actors haven’t truly been married forever.
‘5 Flights Up’
MPAA rating: PG-13, for language, nude images
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles; Laemmle’s Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena; MGN Five Star Cinema, Glendale; Janss Marketplace 9, Thousand Oaks