IS ANYBODY THERE?
In 1980s seaside England, Edward (Bill Milner), an unusual 11 year old boy, is growing up in an old people's home run by his parents (David Morrissey, Ann-Marie Duff). Whilst his mother struggles to keep the family business afloat, and his father copes with the onset of an early mid-life crisis, Edward is busy tape-recording the elderly residents to try and discover what happens when they die. Increasingly obsessed with ghosts and the afterlife, Edward's is a rather lonely existence until he meets Clarence (Michael Caine), the latest recruit to the home, a retired magician with a broken heart and his own way of seeing the world.
Review by Louise Keller:
This is a film that presses many emotional buttons. In many ways it is a really sad film and certainly one that needs a wad of tissues. It's about mortality and growing old. It's also about a young boy's confrontation with death and its ramifications. And it's about redemption, forgiveness, love and belonging. But there's some beauty in the tragic and Michael Caine gives a riveting performance as Clarence the former magician, who comes into the life of impressionable 11 year old Edward (Bill Milner) at a time when his world is falling apart. 'Join hands, make contact with the living,' Clarence tells Edward who is more interested in ghosts, séances and the dead than finding a way of living in the present with his friends and family.
Caine is the master force in this tale about a lonely young boy whose parents run an old people's home. No wonder the youngster is obsessed about ghosts and puts microphones in front of elderly corpses in the hope he will prove there is after life. He resents his situation, his non-relationship with his parents (Anne-Marie Duff, David Morrissey), who have their own problems. Enter Caine's Clarence, a fragile, grumpy old man teetering on the edge of senility. 'You accumulate regrets; they stick to you like old bruises,' Clarence tells Edward and shares his magic with the boy - not only by showing him magic tricks but by opening up his inner world to embrace things that are more important.
Milner is as impressive here as he was in Son of Rambow and it is his relationship with Clarence that is at the film's heart. We watch him grow up before our eyes as he goes from withdrawn recluse to popular youngster in control of his own destiny. There's rebellion at home and the conflict between his parents (Duff and Morrissey, excellent) ads to Edward's inability to connect with his peers. Great to see Carry On's Leslie Phillips as Reg the constant drinker, in a strong ensemble cast of theatre stalwarts. There are a few chuckles, but the mood is mostly deadly serious in this seriously themed story about a young boy who craves a sprinkling of magic to elevate him to a better life.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It wants so badly to be meaningful, relevant and compassionate, but Is Anybody There struggles even to keep our attention, never mind our hearts or minds. Not even Michael Caine's slowly sinking geriatric Clarence or affecting young Bill Milner as the boy who lives in the waiting room of death can elevate the material.
John Crowley's direction lies heavy on a work that is already burdened with stereotypes and TV sitcom material. The pace is heavy, the subject matter not nearly moving enough to work on its own terms, and the gloomy mood never provides the pathos that might give us emotional fodder. Most of it is simply not real. Had it been, it might have elicited sadness or melancholy.
The story itself is weak; the dramatic engine of the young boy and the increasingly senile retired magician simply lacks creative spark. The subplot about the boy's father and his sluggish attempt at seduction with a young employee is badly handled and unsatisfactorily resolved. The characters, other than Milner's Eddie and Caine's Clarence, are all flat and one dimensional, even the great old stalwarts like Leslie Phillips and Sylvia Sims.
Writing and direction are the real weaknesses, though, and the whiny music is no help at all.
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IS ANYBODY THERE? (M)
CAST: Michael Caine, Bill Milner, Rosemary Harris, Leslie Phillips, Sylvia Sims, David Morrissey, Ann-Marie Duff
PRODUCER: David Heyman, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub
DIRECTOR: John Crowley
SCRIPT: Peter Harness
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rob Hardy
EDITOR: Trevor Waite
MUSIC: Joby Talbot
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kave Quinn
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 4, 2009