Released in the U.S. as 5 Flights Up, but as the rather more pedestrian Ruth & Alex here, this is a light, breezy drama that succeeds more thanks to the charisma of its stars than to its script or direction.
The titular couple, brought to life by film festival heavyweights Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton, find themselves facing the prospect of selling the Brooklyn apartment they’ve lived in for 40 years out of concern that the ageing Alex won’t be able to hack the five flights of stairs much longer (hence that ever-so-slightly more interesting American title). The film sees them battle with open houses, bidding wars and their pushy real estate agent/niece (Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon) as they fight their way through New York’s housing market.
‘Elderly couple tries to sell apartment’ may not be the most promising plot synopsis (though set it in London’s current vicious market and we might be talking), but ultimately the sale of the flat is simply a vehicle to study the central couple through the lens of Brooklyn’s changing makeup, with gentrification a key touchstone.
Frequent flashbacks serve to show key moments in Ruth and Alex’s life together, at times underscoring poignant moments in the present, at times simply distracting from them. A subplot involving their dog’s hospitalisation is used to bludgeon the audience with the film’s themes, but does provide some of its most stirring (if occasionally over-sentimental) moments.
The film is undeniably slight, but carries an undeniable charm that is almost entirely thanks to Annie Hall’s Keaton and Academy Award winner Freeman. The pair give Ruth and Alex’s relationship a believable, lived-in feeling, bringing to mind John Lithgow and Alfred Molina’s similar work in last year’s Love Is Strange. There may not be much more to Ruth & Alex than that, but any chance to watch two actors of this calibre do their thing for 90 minutes is hard to turn down.
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