Is Anybody There?
I’m sure that at some point in his storied career, Michael Caine turned in a mediocre performance. I’ve just yet to see it. Unfortunately, Caine’s impeccable talent can’t always carry an entire film, be it last year’s lackluster Flawless or John Crowley’s wobbly Is Anybody There?, a gentle, predictable story of unlikely friendship. Caine plays Clarence, a retired, suicidal magician slowly losing his grasp on who and where he is. Reluctantly, he takes a room in an old folks’ home run by a 40ish couple (Anne-Marie Duff and David Morrissey) whose 11-year-old son, Edward (Bill Milner, from the similarly sweet-but-slight Son of Rambow), is cranky about being displaced from his old room. He’s also obsessed with ghosts, and with what happens after a person dies — understandably so, as the people in his house have a habit of departing their bodies.
Edward is a surly little git, Clarence a cranky old coot; clearly, their initial dislike will turn to friendship before long. Just as clearly, they’ll push each other over the roadblocks keeping them from properly appreciating life. Edward is using his explorations of the paranormal to avoid his lack of friends and his parents’ unhappiness; Clarence hasn’t forgiven himself for something that happened long ago with his wife. Their friendship has potential, but it’s nearly outweighed by the film’s sentimental tone and the way the house’s other residents are woefully short on character development; they seem defined by one personality quirk apiece. Caine’s performance elevates Clarence’s decline into heartbreaker territory, but the rest of the movie just doesn’t keep up. Is Anybody There? (PG13, 95 min., ) opens Friday, May 15, at the Bijou.