Saturday, July 10, 2021

Hotchka Movie Review: The Outside Story

© Samuel Goldwyn Films

The Outside Story is a charming story of finding life outside technology.
by Jeremy Fogelman

Cast: Brian Tyree Henry, Aunita Mani, Sonequa Martin-Green, Olivia Edward, Asia Kate Dillon and Rebecca Naomi Jones

Sometimes you can tell a movie has a “message” or a lesson to be told, and sometimes it’s explicitly spelled out by one of the characters. Usually these messages aren’t particularly clever or inventive, and often fall in the “yes, everyone agrees that nice weather is nice” category of mild revelations. At worst, this can come across preachy and angry, ruining the message and potentially making people think the opposite. But on the other side of things, sometimes you might find yourself agreeing after all.

The Outside Story comes from writer/director Casimir Nozkowski in his first feature film, and stars Brian Tyree Henry as Charles, a dude living in a decent apartment in Brooklyn. As we start off the movie, Charles has just broken up with his girlfriend Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green) after she kissed another woman. Charles has the fascinatingly morbid job of editing together in memoriam montages for celebrities in advance of their potential deaths, which is one of those jobs you never think about existing but make sense when you think about it.

We see snippets of how they met and connected, helping build a reason for us to experience the same feelings of loss as Charles. But the real conceit of the movie happens as mild tension begins to build up -- first Charles runs out of his apartment for a random reason, getting let back in by neighbors who he vaguely recognizes and exchange pleasantries. Then the hammer drops, and Charles realizes he forgot his apartment keys without any shoes on-- and naturally his phone is down to only 25% charge.

So at first it’s the typical sorts of things, trying to call the landlord, trying to find a charger he can borrow, etc. For the introverted Charles, it’s difficult because his neighbors barely recognize him in the first place. Charles manages to get his upstairs neighbor Andre (Michael Cyril Creighton) to let him use the fire escape as an attempt to get into his own apartment, but this reveals hidden depths about Andre he never knew.

Similarly Charles connects another of his neighbors, a young girl named Elena (Olivia Edwards from Better Things) as he begins to realize how much of the outside world he’s never noticed in his own neighborhood. Much of the movie is pushing Charles toward utilizing these realizations and revelations about his failed relationship, and he even manages to befriend a local traffic cop (Sunita Mani) in a very unusual way for him.

One of the real strengths of this movie is the lead performance by Brian Tyree Henry, who helps showcase Charles’ pain, discomfort, and slow internal emotional change. The restricted nature of the movie’s setting, just one local neighborhood, mostly on and inside the same building, actually maintains the sort of revelations for the audience as Charles. We also slowly see the outside world in the same way, which is a good way to mirror it.

There is this underlying lesson to this modern day fable about over-reliance on electronic devices and staying inside too much -- even if there’s an oddly uncomfortable unintended connection to the lockdowns of 2020. Although maybe I can’t blame the movie for not anticipating how millions of people would have to stay inside for their safety, not just their introverted nature.

Overall the movie has a light, breezy charm, and the lead performance works well enough that once we actually get into the conflict of the failed relationship, we actually care about it. For an indie movie with a “message”, it doesn’t pound you over the head with it and makes you feel like maybe you had a nice time with the movie after all.

The Outside Story has a run time of 1 hour 25 minutes and is not rated.

Get it on Apple TV

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