Is There Anybody There?
So when it began I could feel myself beginning to expect something that it wasn't and I felt myself bucking against the film a little. So I let go and went with it, and I had a superb experience, it made me laugh, reminisce, and cry.
He has a fascination for death and the afterlife, desperate to find some meaning and understaning to why these people in his home, and his old room, just stop and disappear.
Then one day, into the home, comes Clarence played by Michael Caine. He's an man who seems perfectly in charge of his faculties and neither boy nor old man take to each other initially.
However the boy notices him doing a simple card trick and is fascinated, and the man sees something desperately sad in the young boy, an inability to be his own age, and participate in life.
So the two begin an unlikely, and at times reluctant, friendship.
To begin with I thought that we might be looking at a typical story of an old man and a young boy creating a friendship, giving each other what they needed in life, and getting on with it, and you know what, it is, but there's so much more to it than that. What started to surprise me is the more realistic and slightly darker side of the story, the way that the boy was rebelling against his life and struggling to understand what death is, and the old man who is struggling with the closing moments of his own life and the guilt he carries.
The film starts off straight away with this light hearted feel that you might expect from a film like this and slowly introduces this more realistic tone, but it never takes over the story and there's still a continuing lighter thread through it all. What's great is how the film weaves the two differing tones of the film together through the characters and their reactions, mainly through the character of Caine's Clarence who will flip between being angry and telling the boy the reality of life, or feeling a connection and sadness for him and helping and humouring him.
Michael Caine plays the character skilfully, there is maybe one moment that he didn't totally have me within his grasp, but otherwise he was one of the most natural and believable characters that you've ever seen. He plays the role beautifully and watching those moments when he becomes frustrated and angry at life and turns it against the boy are often heart wrenching. Not only that but when he begins to show emotion you wholeheartedly believe in him and his character and his performance reaches out to you and latches onto your feelings.
It's also worth mentioning about David Morrissey and Anne-Marie Duff who play the parents of Edward. Duff gives another real and heartfelt performance, and while Morrissey doesn't have that much, and his moments with the young girl they employ may be more comic, but there is a great moment he shares with Bill Milner, the actor who plays Edward, the boy who leads the film with Caine's character. Late on in the film, over a plate of chips in a café, Morrissey brings out his emotional guns for his character and makes a heartfelt plea with his son and connection with the audience.
That brings us to Milner playing Edward. There's no way that he can hope to stand up to the might of Caine, or the experience of Duff and Morrissey, but he does a good job. To begin with I was feeling slightly aggravated at his character who seemed to be over acting quite a bit, and perhaps that was down to his angry and frustrated child character, but it felt quite a number of times that he was trying too hard.
However he settles into his character later on and I become much more comfortable with him in the role. That said it seemed just a little quick for the character to turn around in his feelings for Caine's character, but you can understand it in terms of the story.
A final mention on the actor front has to go to the recognisable faces of those playing the other elderly people living in the home, names like Leslie Phillips, Rosemary Harris, Thelma Barlow, and quite a few more, faces that are very recognisable to those in Britain from both film and television, and all provide an interesting part to play in the film.
The story is very well written, and you can see that in the writing of Caine's character more than anything, particularly where he would lose his temper or his frustration would come to the surface and it would pour out onto the boy and give us a glimpse of the darker side of the character and of life.
I really enjoyed the way that the film brought these two strands together because it could so easily have been all light hearted and emotionally damp. Instead we get some pretty serious and darker real world views of life pulled into the story and woven well into the more heart tugging storyline.
Of course it's not all this way and there are some amusing moments amongst this to lighten the moments and make the real life hits a bit more hard hitting. There's some real world dark humour in there, the laughing in the face of adversity.
The other thing that needs to be mentioned about the film are the set designs. The setting is in the 1980's and the production design for everything from sets to clothing and make-up is fabulous. There's Morrissey's changing hairstyle and clothes throughout and the final hairstyle for Duff that made me smile thinking back.
Filming wise the style was unobtrusive and let the story play out for the audience, but there were a few special moments. One I particularly liked was when Caine's character was sitting thinking about his own illness and mortality and the visual representation of his thoughts and illness was very well portrayed, and gave us some pause for thought as we watched it.
I enjoyed this film. It did manage to touch the heart without being overly sappy and going for a lot of easier heart tugging moments. The more complex and real characterisation of Clarence was well written and wonderfully acted by Michael Caine. This should be a performance that he should be proud of and can really rank highly with his best performances of his career.
The supporting actors had some strong moments too and provided solid support throughout, and with a very well written script, great set design, and a host of recognisable British actors playing the other people living in the home, Is There Anybody There? is a wonderful film that you really should see.