Published May 14, 2009Sure to appeal to a crowd more conscious of pension benefits than service-provider texting rates, Is Anybody There? proves interesting as an examination of generational mortal awareness in men, but is perhaps too manufactured and saccharine to find approval with a particularly erudite crowd. That said, the Matlock crowd, unconcerned with cinematic conventions and common storytelling trajectories, should find here a sweet natured, occasionally touching and even taboo film about the natural state of human progression.
Inexplicably set in the '80s, the film centres on a boy, Edward (Son of Rambow's Bill Milner), who lives in an old folks home run by his responsible, hard-working mum (Anne-Marie Duff) and despondent, middle-aged dad (David Morrissey). Obsessed with ghosts and the frequent deaths surrounding him, Edward develops a strange kinship with Clarence (Michael Caine), a particularly resentful new resident unwilling to embrace the implications of being dumped in a seniors' home.
It's the exchanges between this unlikely duo, as they discuss death and social obligation candidly and with sincere generational naivety, which work within the film, making it seem almost good. The problem, however, is an overall cloying tendency to dwell on forced peculiarities for charming palatability. We have an old man that tells sex jokes, a nudist, a drunk, a bitch and so on all vying for campy comedic co-star attention without any subtlety or necessity.
Schmaltz aside, the performances throughout are touching, nuanced and unwilling to compromise humanity for the sake of likeability, which alone is commendable. In addition, the juxtaposition of a child learning about and accepting the actuality of death with an older man whose failing body acts as a constant reminder of the inevitable, while obvious, is also entirely effective in its aims.
Even the forced nature of David Morrissey's desperate attempts at youthful revitalization as a subplot helps reveal the natural progression of lifelong human anxieties surrounding mortality. (E1)