Review: ‘Is Anybody There?’
Starring: Michael Caine, Bill Milner,
David Morrissey, Anne-Marie Duff and Rosemary Harris
Rated: PG-13 for language including sexual references and some disturbing images
Running time: 94 minutes
A few weeks back I wrote a review for “The Answer Man,” a low-budget comedy that ran around in the independent film circles. When I first popped it in, a few trailers (movie previews) played before it and one of them was for a movie that I had never heard of called, “Is Anybody There?”
That’s one of my favorite things about watching independent films, trailers for movies I never even knew existed. That’s how I learned about “The Answer Man,” too.
“Is Anybody There?” is an all-out drama that does its best to make you cry. Or at least make you think long and hard about it.
Edward (Bill Milner) is an 11-year-old boy growing up in a nursing home run by his parents. (Think “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” without the ballet and reverse aging.) For years, Edward’s seen people come and then unfortunately seen them pass away.
Growing up in such a place-- which I’ll be the first to admit sounds none too thrilling-- and witnessing so many people die has affected Edward. He’s not fascinated with death as much as he’s fascinated with what happens after it. It’s not as morbid as it sounds and I’m sure he’s not the only one who’s wondered what happens after the final curtain call.
He spends his free time watching shows about ghosts and doing experiments to try and communicate with the dead, much to the chagrin of his parents, because usually altercation-inducing shenanigans ensue.
Clarence (Michael Caine) is the latest person to enter the nursing home. He’s a retired magician who’s beginning to experience the early stages of dementia and is not happy in the least about his new surroundings.
Clarence feels defeated that he has to be in an “old folk’s home” and keeps insisting that it’s “only temporary.” To add insult to injury, he also carries around a lot of grief from things he’s done as a younger man and feels he can never be forgiven for them.
It would seem to be a recipe for an incurable depression.
The first encounters that Edward and Clarence have aren’t exactly sociable; in fact the two can’t really seem to stand each other. However, after Edward inadvertently saves Clarence’s life, the two begin to build a tolerance for one another, which quickly morphs into a friendship.
It would seem a little odd, the pairing of a septuagenarian and an 11-year-old, but they’re not exactly in a normal setting, so it works. Clarence teaches Edward some magic tricks and helps him forget his surroundings while Edward does his best to help Clarence remember that he still has a life to live.
In a place neither of them wants to be, they both have each other to take their mind off things and to possibly find an answer to the titular question, “Is Anybody There?”
One thing you don’t have to ask about is how good Michael Caine’s performance is. There are many ways I could describe it, but the fact that he’s Michael Caine pretty much says it all. I will add this, though— he’s painful to watch at times.
It’s not painful because it’s bad, it’s painful because he comes across so well as a man who thinks there’s nothing left. You want him to realize that there’s plenty left and hope that he realizes it in time.
As I said before, this is a drama and has some extremely heartbreaking moments. But there are also some hopeful ones, too, and those are the ones you have to cling to when you watch it, because while it may seem buried away, hope is there.
Bottom line, “Is Anybody There?” is not the movie you pop in after work when you’re ready to unwind. It’s the one you pop in early on Sunday when you’re at the height of being relaxed and can take everything this movie has to give. That includes touching performances, a fascinating storyline and, in some form, hope.
It’s a heartbreaking look at life, death and how you learn to live with one and cope with the other. At any age.
Believe me when I say that it’s very moving. And not as morbid as it sounds.
The Movie Dude, Joe Altomere of Fort Myers, grew up in his parents’ video store in Plantersville, Texas. He owns close to 2,000 DVDs and Blu-ray discs and considers that only the start of his collection. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.