Wrestling with Two Sides of a Precarious Coin


Is it possible that something can be harnessed for good, on the one hand, and for just the opposite, on the other? If we put our mind to it, we can probably think of many examples. Fire, for instance, can be used for cooking and heating when employed judiciously. At the same time, though, it could also be a tool for arsonists. Similarly, there are countless instances where knives can serve useful purposes and many others where they can wreak havoc. Some would contend that nuclear energy can be both beneficial and destructive, depending on how it’s used. And on and on it goes for numerous other devices, substances and technologies.

So, in light of the foregoing, is it possible to look upon alcohol use in a comparable way? Are there indeed two sides to the liquor coin? That’s what four old friends want to find out in the unconventional saga of “Another Round” (“Druk”) (web site, trailer). But, one might legitimately ask, why would such a question come up in the first place?

Four long-time friends (from left), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe, back to camera), Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), muse how to get their lives back through a program of carefully controlled alcohol consumption in director Thomas Vinterberg’s latest, “Another Round” (“Druk”). Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) is a forty-something high school history teacher and married father of two who’s been drifting through life of late. His directionless funk has been going on for a while, impacting multiple areas of his life. He feels he’s lost something when it comes to his effectiveness as a teacher, especially when a class of seniors confronts him with their concerns about whether he’ll be able to prepare them adequately for their final exams. He also worries that his wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie), has lost interest in him and that his sons, Jonas (Magnus Sjørup) and Kasper (Silas Cornelius Van), don’t take him seriously. These circumstances weigh on him, because he’s come to believe that he’s far from the person he was when he was younger – a onetime bright, shining star full of promise that has never materialized. And, now that he’s comfortably settling into middle age, he’s worried that he’ll never get back what he’s lost, that he’ll continue to slide into a morass of obscurity, mediocrity and growing ineffectiveness.

He’s further reminded of all this while attending a 40th birthday dinner for his long-time friend and fellow teacher, Nikolaj (Magnus Millang). During the party, these concerns are echoed in his conversations among the guest of honor and the other celebrants, Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen) and Peter (Lars Ranthe), also teachers and long-time friends. They speculate about various solutions to Martin’s dilemma, in large part because they’ve all been experiencing similar feelings themselves of late. But what realistically are they to do?

One of the most unusual suggestions comes up somewhat casually during one of the many toasts made to the birthday boy. Citing an obscure theory attributed to Norwegian psychiatrist and author Finn Skårderud, the four friends debate the therapist’s contention that humans are born with a blood alcohol deficiency and that intentionally raising it to make up for that lack can work wonders in many ways. According to the hypothesis, consuming just enough alcohol to raise one’s blood alcohol level to 0.05% – and then continuing to drink just enough to sustain the level at that point – will make up for that lack. With a blood alcohol level perpetually maintained on the brink of euphoria, the theory goes, one can relieve stress, boost personal confidence, remove limiting inhibitions and unleash untapped reserves of creativity, developments that are seen as crucial in helping individuals get back in step with their lives.

When high school history Teacher Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) begins experimenting with a program of carefully controlled alcohol consumption, he believes the practice makes him a better and more creative instructor, as detailed in the new Danish drama, “Another Round” (“Druk”). Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Martin is initially skeptical. In fact, he’s so concerned with maintaining his sense of personal responsibility that he doesn’t even join in the initial series of toasts, citing the fact that he’s driving. However, the more Nikolaj, Tommy and Peter ruminate on the potential benefits of such a practice, the more intrigued Martin becomes. He genuinely wants to get his mojo back, and, if a carefully regulated regimen of alcohol consumption will enable that, then maybe it’s an option he should consider, especially if his buddies enthusiastically sign on for the ride and agree to provide mutual support to one another. And, just to add an air of legitimacy to their experiment, they agree to document their experience in the form of a study for publication.

As the quartet of “researchers” launches into their work, they agree on certain conditions. For example, they won’t become reckless by engaging in acts like drunk driving. Because they’re high school teachers, they will maintain a degree of discretion and respectability in their drinking practices to avoid the risk of such activity costing them their jobs. They also seek to drink just enough to reach and maintain the desired blood alcohol level without spilling over into unbridled inebriation. In fact, they even set designated alcohol consumption hours, following the “disciplined” examples set by other noteworthy drinkers who went on to great accomplishments in their respective fields of endeavor, such as Ernest Hemingway and Winston Churchill.

As the experiment begins, Martin, Nikolaj, Tommy and Peter find that Skårderud’s claims have merit. Professionally, they all perform better as teachers, coming up with innovative ways of instructing their students and bolstering their pupils’ interest in the subject matter. Improvements on the homefront surface, too, most notably for Martin, who develops a closeness with Anika and a bond with his sons unlike anything he’s seen in years. But, before long, the question becomes, “Can all this be maintained?”

Middle-aged husband and father, Martin (Mads Mikkelsen, left), believes that a program of carefully controlled alcohol consumption helps improve his sagging relationship with his wife, Anika (Maria Bonnevie, right), in director Thomas Vinterberg’s latest, “Another Round” (“Druk”), now available for online streaming. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

With sustained alcohol consumption soon comes increased alcohol consumption. All of the supposed safeguards that were implemented at the start of the experiment begin to erode, and the “benefits” that were initially realized begin to slip away, worsening to levels below those that were initially in place. But at what point will the four friends realize this? And can they repair their circumstances before they’re too late?

When dealing with something potentially volatile, it should go without saying that we must exercise caution, for we’re ultimately responsible for what happens. Based on the foregoing, as this story illustrates, that’s certainly true when it comes to a substance like alcohol. But, in a larger context, that’s even more significant when it comes to the management and deployment of something more powerful, such as our beliefs. They can have tremendous impact and persistence, even if those qualities aren’t always readily apparent, and these qualities can be reflected in the reality we experience. And, in this case, that can’t be emphasized enough.

The beliefs that Martin and his friends tap into in launching their experiment probably seem somewhat suspect from the outset. Even Martin is initially skeptical. After all, who has ever heard of – and taken stock in – the notion of humans possessing an inherent blood alcohol deficiency? Some studies have suggested that certain animals naturally produce their own internal alcohol as a means of generating warmth under conditions of extreme cold, but when has it ever been suggested that we can somehow mix our own innate margaritas, especially for personal improvement?

An old saying goes that, “If something is too good to be true, it probably is.” So it would seem with the notion put forth here. Yet Martin and his friends so badly want to recover what they think they’ve lost that they’re likely to believe just about anything, especially if the proposed solution has elements of enjoyment and simplicity associated with it. They’re willing to put their faith and trust in the belief that a raised and sustained blood alcohol level will somehow restore the vigor of their youth. And, in the process, they’re apparently willing to overlook the potential downside of their undertaking, even though their tacit skepticism quietly suggests otherwise. That doubt is, in itself, a belief, one that rides alongside their conviction that Skårderud’s hypothesis will bring them the salvation they seek. That mix of ostensibly contradictory beliefs is a killer, one whose potency outstrips the strongest Long Island iced tea one can imagine.

When does something potentially beneficial become palpably problematic? That’s what high school teacher Martin (Mads Mikkelsen, center) seeks to find out for himself in Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s latest, “Another Round” (“Druk”). Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

This obviously raises critical issues of personal responsibility. Given that we each create our own existence, we’re each inherently responsible for what manifests. And, considering the potentially explosive mix of materials and beliefs present here, the importance of responsibility steps to the forefront, both for what the four friends create for themselves and whatever impact it may have on those around them. With students and family members within the purview of the amateur researchers, there’s a lot at stake besides the welfare of those conducting the experiment. Even though they may be convinced that everything will turn out just fine, can they be sure of that, especially given the seemingly incongruous belief mix they’re drawing upon? Where is the responsibility in all that? How will matters play out? And what effect will they ultimately have?

Some could argue that the responsibility question applies here not only to the characters in the story, but also to the filmmakers themselves. One might legitimately ask, how responsible is it for a director to make a movie that raises an idea such as the one presented here? Indeed, is it wise to propose the kind of notion put forth in the film? Doesn’t it run the risk of viewers trying out Skårderud’s idea for themselves?

That argument indeed has merit. However, as director Thomas Vinterberg has observed, questions regarding the range of reasons underlying alcohol use are worthy of exploration, despite the fact that they often go undiscussed. This is particularly true, he notes, in a country like Denmark, where alcohol consumption – often to excess – occupies a significant place in the country’s culture, for better or worse. This film, he believes, is an attempt to bring up that subject for examination.

As the story shows, all may not necessarily be bad when it comes to the question of alcohol consumption. Given the initial results that Martin and his friends experience, there may be something to be said for moderate levels of drinking. It’s difficult to deny the positive outcomes they experience. But can they (or anyone, for that matter) maintain such results over time? The characters argue in favor of this belief based on their own outcomes, as well as those of role models like Hemingway, who drank regularly and produced volumes of superb finished works. But is that indeed true, given, for example, what happened to Hemingway in the end?

In many ways, this illustrates the dual-edged sword that creation can be. As noted above, it’s truly possible for some items and ideas to yield both positive and negative results, depending on how they’re employed. What matters is the intents underlying their use. And, given how powerful and persistent these notions can be, it’s easy to see how potent and long-lasting they often are. This is true both for beliefs that operate individually or in tandem with others, no matter how credible, unrealistic, dubious or delusional they may ultimately be.

Can a film realistically straddle the fence of a controversial subject without getting its hands dirty despite the risk of angering proponents on each side of that issue? That’s what “Another Round” seeks to do. Director Vinterberg has said that, in making this film, he wanted to examine all sides of the subject of alcohol consumption, even if it’s not often discussed as openly and frankly as it is here. He asserts that he has attempted to shed light on a topic that’s an especially important aspect of Danish society. Even the original Danish title – “Druk,” which literally translates as “Drunk” or “Drinking” – Vinterberg says, has meaning that goes beyond these mere words, carrying connotations that are inherent to the country’s culture and may not be readily apparent in the ways of other nations, ideas he believes are worthy of exploration through a story such as this. Those ideas may not be as easily recognizable to viewers outside of Denmark, yet they’re likely just as pertinent elsewhere when examined on their face, giving the film and its subject matter a universality that may not have been widely considered before.

This edgy comedy-drama draws upon an innately controversial narrative in telling its story, but Vinterberg manages to navigate through it skillfully, even if the final product is sometimes a little too unrealistically tidy. The picture’s closing sequence is also overlong and arguably feels somewhat unresolved. However, these shortcomings are overcome by the fine ensemble cast, especially the performance of Mikkelsen, who proves once again that he’s one of the most underrated performers in the business. All of that aside, no matter how one views this offering, it’s sure to provoke strong responses, but no one is likely to come away from it without having a well-defined opinion.

“Another Round” is generating considerable awards season buzz as a leading contender in foreign language film categories, having already received numerous film festival honors and earned spots on the top 10 lists of many movie critics. It will be interesting to see if that translates into nominations in the upcoming award competitions. The film is currently available for streaming online.

There’s a fine line between reasonable, responsible experimentation and reckless, unrealistic wishful thinking, and that divide can become increasingly narrower when potentially troubling elements are wrapped up in the mix. In instances like this, we must remain vigilant about what we do and how we proceed, for, when we cross certain boundaries, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to turn back. Whatever initial gains we might attain could be quickly wiped out, perhaps diminishing even further beyond what we had when we embarked upon such dubious undertakings. We’d be wise to think about that the next time we consider raising a glass.

A complete review is available by clicking here. 

The Latest and Greatest at the Show


Theaters may still be closed in many areas, but that needn’t stop us from watching some great movies! Find out about some excellent new selections this Thursday, January 28, on the latest edition of The Good Media Network’s Frankiesense & More video podcast with yours truly and host Frankie Picasso. Tune in at 1 pm ET on Facebook Live for a lively discussion of new releases worth seeing (and some worth avoiding). And, if you don’t see the broadcast live, catch it later on demand!

The Power of Change and Connection

Creating the life we want can prove challenging. The same can be said for creating the life we need, but, given the nature of these circumstances, we often feel motivated to work toward achieving it more diligently. And, in the process, we frequently find that the effort is more than worth it, providing us with benefits beyond what we dreamed possible. So it is for a seemingly unlikely duo in the heartwarming new Italian domestic drama, “The Life Ahead” (“La vita davanti a sé”) (web site, trailer).

When Italian social services are charged with finding a home for 12-year-old Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), an orphaned Senegalese immigrant living on the streets of the seacoast city of Bari, officials place him in the care of an aging physician, Dr. Coen (Renato Carpentieri). It’s a responsibility that the kindly old doctor is not really up to handling, in large part because of Momo’s unwillingness to give up the unruly ways he relied upon while living on the streets. As someone who’d grown accustomed to getting by on his wits, Momo didn’t hesitate to resort to petty crime and other questionable behavior to survive, habits he refuses to give up even after he’s been given a supposedly stable home life. He still steals from unsuspecting innocents and associates with an assortment of thugs and hoodlums, such as Nala (Malich Cissé), a teenage counterpart, and Ruspa (Massimiliano Rossi), a Fagin-esque hood who recruits street kids as partners in drug dealing and other nefarious activities.

Because he’s unable to instill the kinds of positive values that he believes Momo needs to live a good and upstanding life, Dr. Coen decides it’s best to find a new home for his young charge. However, he also realizes it may take considerable time to go through official channels, a move that would undoubtedly relegate Momo to inadequate state facilities in the interim. So, as an alternative, he seeks the assistance of an old friend, Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren), to see if she can care for Momo until a new permanent home is found.

Why Madame Rosa? It’s because Dr. Coen believes she possesses the qualities needed to raise the undisciplined youth. The Auschwitz survivor who later became a lady of the evening has lived a hard and challenging life, experiences that have enabled her to become a survivor. At the same time, though, she also developed a strong nurturing streak, one that emerged after giving up her days of turning tricks by becoming an impromptu caretaker of children born to fellow prostitutes. This combination of traits has thus provided her with the means to successfully care for at-risk children who have been shoved off to the side and need love – often of the tough variety – to survive.

When Dr. Coen approaches Madame Rosa with his proposal, she initially turns him down. She’s already a full-time caretaker for Iosif (Iosif Diego Pirvu), the young son of a street colleague (Costanta Fana Pirvu), and a daytime babysitter for Babu (Simone Surico), the toddler of her downstairs transsexual neighbor, Lola (Abril Zamora). She believes the last thing she needs is another youngster to care for, let alone one who has behavioral issues. It doesn’t help that she’s also one of Momo’s crime victims. But, when Dr. Coen pleads his case that this is only a temporary arrangement, Madame Rosa reluctantly relents and agrees to take in the boy.

Given Momo’s temperament, things don’t get off to a good start with Madame Rosa. Realizing this, she knows she can’t clamp down too hard too fast, so she cuts him some slack. But she also knows that he can’t get away with whatever he wants, so that’s when her signature tough love kicks in. And, remarkably, she soon starts to get results with Momo – at least to a point.

While Momo doesn’t give up his street ways overnight (as seen by his continuing involvement with Nala and Ruspa), he nevertheless begins altering his behavior in other ways, most notably in his relationship with Madame Rosa. As she begins showing signs of age-related mental health issues, for example, Momo displays an uncharacteristic degree of compassion previously unseen. A genuine warmth develops between them, and the qualities that Dr. Coen had hoped would emerge indeed begin to surface. But, considering the nature of the changing circumstances in their relationship, what does the future hold? Will Momo and Madame Rosa be adequately prepared for the life ahead?

It’s always comforting when what we need just happens to come along just when we need it. We often attribute such happenings to a stroke of good luck, divine intervention or fate smiling upon us. However, given the perfectly tailored nature of these solutions, one can’t help but think that there’s something more to their appearance than some kind of nebulous supernatural intervention. It’s as if a wish specifically suited to our needs drops in our lap for use in attending to whatever challenges we face. And, in light of that, one can’t help but think that we must somehow play a part in that manifestation’s sudden arrival.

The sense that we’re somehow involved in this process is anything but far-fetched.  And, because of that, it follows that what manifests in our existence stems from us. This is true for all of us, too, whether or not we recognize the process or our involvement in it. We often develop a proficiency at this without realizing it. Yet that aptitude fredquently works in our favor, enabling us to create what we need when we need it. And that’s certainly true where Momo and Madame Rosa are concerned.

Momo needs someone who can teach him discipline but without tying his hands; as an orphan, he still faces challenges ahead and must know how to care for himself under conditions that are often less than perfect, conditions that make Madame Rosa a perfect mentor for him. Likewise, Momo’s aging caretaker needs someone who can help look after her without infringing too heavily upon her steely sense of independence; Momo fills that bill by providing heartfelt comfort and compassion without crowding Madame Rosa’s valued sense of self.

Madame Rosa also realizes that Momo needs strong parental figures in his life. She handily fulfills the motherly role; as for a father figure, she solicits the support of a neighborhood shopkeeper, Hamil (Babak Karimi). In seeking out Hamil’s assistance, Madame Rosa not only provides Momo with a paternal influence, but she also secures the help of someone who can guide the youngster spiritually. Given her Jewish heritage, Madame Rosa is unable to usher Momo through the teachings and customs of his native Islam, but Hamil can certainly fill that void for him. Hamil also provides work for Momo, a gesture aimed at helping wean him off of the negative influences of Nala and Ruspa.

The bottom line in all this is that it creates a much-needed bond between Momo and those who are trying to help him out. It provides a sense of connection that has long been missing in his life, something that he hasn’t always openly admitted to needing, wanting or desiring. However, once he gets a taste of it, he begins to see what’s been lacking. It even prompts him at one point to confess how much he misses the family members that he barely knew – especially the love and support they gave him, even if he didn’t fully appreciate its importance at the time. Another want fulfilled.

The most significant development to come from all this is that it changes the nature of the existence that Momo and Madame Rosa experience. Considering where each of them begins at the start of the film, this change represents an enormously beneficial shift in their lives. It may not be perfect, and new challenges may lie ahead, but they’re better off from where they were. That’s important for all of us to bear in mind when we seek to forge a better existence for ourselves. As their experience shows, it sure beats the alternative.

Though occasionally somewhat predictable and formulaic, this touching tale shines brilliantly thanks to its outstanding performances and the palpable chemistry of its superb ensemble cast members. As a streetwise, tough-loving mother figure, screen veteran Loren (in her first feature film role in 10 years) provides a perfect counterpart to newcomer Gueye. Director Edoardo Ponti (Loren’s son) serves up a fine effort in his third feature outing, one worthy of the considerable awards buzz it has been generating, especially for his leading lady’s stellar portrayal. The story here may seem a little familiar at times, but its execution more than makes up for that, with the 87-year-old Loren adding yet another memorable performance to her storied career. Keep the hankies handy for this one, too. The film is available for streaming online.

It’s been said that, in times of need, “The Universe provides,” sage words in my experience. However, I’ve also found that the process tends to function more effectively (and often more quickly) when we do our part to help it along, giving our divine provider some insight and guidance into what we believe we need. When we hone these beliefs and make our intents clear, we frequently find that what we need shows up when we need it. And that can go a long way toward helping to prepare us for the life ahead.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Rejoining the Living

Solitude can have its virtues, especially when we’re trying to complete a personally significant project or engage in meaningful introspection. But, if we’re not careful, it can become a little too comfortable if we allow it to persist for too long, making it difficult to get out of that trap. Knowing when to let go and rejoin the world of the living is crucial to avoid losing ourselves, a point driven home loud and clear in the new romantic comedy-drama, “The Outside Story” (web site, trailer).

Charles Young (Brian Tyree Henry) really needs to get out more. The 30-something free-lance creator of celebrity tribute reels for a classic cinema cable channel hasn’t left his Brooklyn apartment for some time. Though a self-avowed homebody, like his live-in girlfriend, Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green), he’s carried it to an extreme of late, trying even Isha’s patience. In fact, the tedium has gotten to her so much that she recently engaged in a bit of an extracurricular dalliance that prompted the break-up they’re now going through. But, even with such a big change pending, Charles hasn’t changed his routine – that is, until fate forces his hand.

Given how seldom Charles leaves his apartment, it should come as no surprise that he might inadvertently overlook something as simple as remembering to take his keys with him when he goes out – which is precisely what happens. Needless to say, he desperately tries to get back in. And, with an aging celebrity on his deathbed (which means the possibility of a looming work deadline), Charles needs to find a way into his apartment to finish his work and keep his job.

Free-lance film editor Charles Young (Brian Tyree Henry) tries just about everything to get back into his Brooklyn apartment when he’s accidently locked out in the heartwarming new comedy-drama, “The Outside Story.” Photo by Brandon Munoz.

He seeks help from his landlord, Tony (David Zayas), who’s unavoidably unavailable. He calls his friend, Neil (Matthew Maher), to see if he still has the duplicate set of keys he gave him, another fruitless effort. He even tries contacting Isha to see if she can help, yet another lost cause. With all his obvious options exhausted, he thus has to start getting creative, exploring untried possibilities, actions that open doors he never dreamed of.

For perhaps the first time ever, he introduces himself to the neighbors who share his Brooklyn walkup to see if they can help. First he meets top-floor tenant Andre (Michael Cyril Creighton), a free-spirited “player” who’s preparing to host two Scandinavian guests, Soren (Paul Thureen) and Sylvia (Nadia Bowers), for what is hoped will be a fun-filled visit (Charles’s ill-timed interruptions notwithstanding). Then he meets his upstairs neighbor, Elena (Olivia Edward), a shy young piano virtuoso who lives with her overly controlling mother, Juliet (Maria Dizzia). Though he makes new acquaintances through these encounters, they’re unable to help Charlie get back in his apartment.

As the locked-out film editor grows progressively more frustrated, he tries more aggressive ways of getting back inside, some of which attract the attention of authorities, such as New York Traffic Police Officer Slater (Sunita Mani). Despite his suspicious behavior, Charles finds a surprisingly sympathetic ear in the young beat cop, helping him in ways he wasn’t expecting (except, of course, in the way that ultimately matters most). He receives additional aid from neighbors in adjoining buildings, such as spry senior Sara (Lynda Gravatt) and expectant mom Paige (Hannah Bos). The kindness of “strangers” leaves quite an impact on him, so much so that he begins returning the favor to those who assisted him. The experience thus brings Charles not only out of his apartment, but also out of his shell.

When Isha Ellis-Winters (Sonequa Martin-Green) plans to move out of the apartment she shares with her live-in boyfriend, both of their lives get tumultuously turned upside-down in director Casimir Nozkowski’s debut feature, “The Outside Story.” Photo by Brandon Munoz.

But, despite such kind gestures, the question remains, will Charles be able to get back in his apartment? Will he get to keep his job? And what’s to become of him and Isha now that she’s ready to move out? There’s more to be resolved here than just figuring out a way to open a locked door.

As the film opens, anyone can see that Charles is clearly stuck in a rut (and one that’s become mighty cozy for him, I might add). Yet, despite his acknowledgment of being one who prefers the comforts of home, he’s almost become a recluse, a hermit who’s perfectly content to curl up with his movies and his film editing equipment and never leave the house. In doing so, though, he’s lost touch with so much – the outside world, people and now even his beloved Isha. Is that any way to live?

Charles seems to have convinced himself that what lies between the walls of his apartment is somehow enough, and those beliefs have shaped the self-contained reality he now experiences. But is this indeed enough? It seems inconceivable that we’d want to limit ourselves in such a narrow manner. It’s a safe bet that Charles understands this on some level, too, even if he’s not fully aware of it. And it could be that’s what prompts him to “inadvertently” lock himself out of his apartment. He knows he needs to rejoin the world of the living, even if he’s too stubborn to admit it (as evidenced in several of his conversations with others in the film), so he must  “trick” himself to create circumstances in which he forces his own hand to bring about that aforementioned goal.

Young piano virtuoso Elena Rose (Olivia Edward) makes an unexpected new friend when her downstairs neighbor is inadvertently locked out of his apartment in the delightful new comedy-drama, “The Outside Story.” Photo by Brandon Munoz.

By opening himself up to new possibilities, Charles discovers a panorama of life that has been hidden to him for far too long. He overcomes the self-imposed limitations that have been keeping him confined. He pulls himself up out of his rut. And he finds that there’s more to living than just the four walls around him. He begins to evolve, and he may be merely taking baby steps at this point, but that’s better than no progress at all, especially when he begins to see how much there is to gain – and how little there is to lose.

The benefits of rejoining the world are immeasurable. It provides us with opportunities for joy, wonder, self-discovery and personal growth, among others. Taking some time to look up from our work and beyond our confines can reveal so much that’s otherwise obscured from us. That’s particularly true when it comes to the connections between us and our fellow human beings. We miss out on so much when we fail to avow the ties that bind all of us to one another. It can keep us from forging meaningful links that can benefit both us and others, perhaps even leading to isolation and mistrust if intentionally disregarded.

When she witnesses suspicious behavior outside a Brooklyn apartment building, New York Traffic Police Officer Slater (Sunita Mani) steps in to investigate in “The Outside Story.” Photo by Brandon Munoz.

The importance of all this can’t be overestimated under prevailing conditions. Given the isolation that the COVID-19 lockdowns have caused, many of us have become prisoners in our own homes with little outside contact. But that outside world still exists, and, even if we’re not interacting with it in quite the same way as before, there are ways in which we can still preserve our connections to one another, and we should do all we can to retain sight of that. Such efforts are not only important now, but they will also be crucial when the world reopens once again. We must make conscious efforts to not let the practices we’ve adopted in the interim to become permanent, for, if we do, we run the risk of losing more than we can possibly imagine. Charles’s story is a reminder of that, and we should all bear it in mind. City dwellers, like the isolated Brooklynite here, should pay particular attention to this, given the reclusive tendencies that often come with urban living – but don’t have to.

In watching “The Outside Story,” it’s amazing how much can come from so little. While the premise of the film is simple, director Casimir Nozkowski successfully manages to make the most of the material in this delightful yet thoughtful romantic comedy-drama. Though occasionally predictable and slightly episodic, this charming release nevertheless touches and entertains on multiple fronts, all brought to life by an excellent lead performance by Brian Tyree Henry, perhaps the best of his career. It’s truly astounding how a story as rudimentary as this can remind us of some of life’s more important (and often overlooked) little truths – especially when we take the time to look up and examine the world around us once in a while. The film has primarily been playing the festival circuit, so finding it may take some effort. However, this uplifting charmer is well worth it, so don’t miss it if you have the chance.

After multiple unsuccessful attempts to get back inside his apartment after accidentally being locked out, free-lance film editor Charles Young (Brian Tyree Henry) becomes dejected while still hoping for a miracle in “The Outside Story.” Photo by Brandon Munoz.

Sadly, we may not realize how much we miss the world until it’s no longer on our radar. And, even then, we may grow so accustomed to the change that we might forget what we’ve lost. That’s indeed a shame, considering how much there is to lose. But that’s not to say we can’t get it back, either. It could take some effort on our part, but, given what we have to gain, it’s worth it. Just ask Charles.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2020-2021, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.