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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Is Anyone There? (2008)

There are two excellent reasons to watch this small film about the unlikely friendship between an oddball boy and an irritable old codger: the performances by talented young Bill Milner (who was so amazing in 'Son of Rambow') and the ever-entertaining Michael Caine (who really is a marvel to watch--even 'Harry Brown' was saved by his performance from utter failure). The movie uses a gallows humor to approach the dementia and death with wry compassion.
Milner plays 10-year-old Edward, only child of a couple who have turned their sprawling and slightly dilapidated house into a retirement home. A shy boy with an interest in the paranormal and a serious chip on his shoulder about having to share his house with the elderly, Edward lurks around the near-dying, sometimes hiding a tape recorder under their beds to record whatever sounds accompany a soul’s ascent into the afterlife.
When one renter dies another replaces them. Michael Caine plays Clarence, a cantankerous retired magician in need of room and board. Despite an initial antipathy toward each other, a bit of stage business to establish Clarence as world-class curmudgeon and Edward as mischievous loner, he and the boy become fellow travelers. Clarence teaches his adopted protégé lessons about life along with elementary card tricks and Edward makes Clarence not wish to be dead.
But all is not fun and games. Clarence claims to be of sound mind, but in fact we see over time that he is not. Caine does a superb job conveying Clarence’s subtle slide into senility. The film is well-crafted, thoughtful and sentimental in the best sense.

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