A review of “Is Anybody There?” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG for strong language and mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

 

 

Venerable Michael Caine is the talented centerpiece in this cookie cutter dramedy that beguiles and rankles.

Caine is Clarence Parkinson, a suicidal ex-magician (“The Amazing Clarence”) who refuses to accept the hostile passage of time.

Clarence reluctantly takes up residence at ramshackle Lark Hall, a quirky English senior residence center run by a harried young couple (David Morrissey and Anne-Marie Duff) and their resentful ten-year old son Edward (Bill Milner) who is unnaturally obsessed with ghosts and the mysteries of the great beyond.

In fits and starts Edward and Clarence craft a friendship, a yin and yang that spans decades of differences. Clarence slowly – very slowly -- sloughs off his armor of rage and encourages Edward to make more contact with the living; for his part the wise-beyond-his-years youngster engages Clarence in his imaginative games and refuses to join in the pity-party.

Behind the scenes are a number of mini-plot points that meander with no resolution – an extramarital temptation, geriatric sparks and some furtive hints at an afterlife.

At its core “Anything” relies on the chemistry of its enigmatic leads to keep its narrative airy. Caine is the consummate pro, offering up pain and pathos along with a dynamic dose of wry humor. Seventy six years old and he’s still got it – his is a lovely, nuanced performance. Milner puts it all up front and over the top with churlish exasperation and pre-adolescent angst.

Leads are supported by a gaggle of A-list old-timers – Rosemary Harris, Leslie Phillips and Peter Vaughan -- who gamely, if a bit farcically, give life to the notion of letting go with grace.

Director John Crowley (“Boy A”) shamelessly peddles the waterworks; material is solid if not exactly sparkly.