Some professions require a great deal of seclusion. Film and video editing is one such occupation. A good editor immerses himself fully into someone else’s vision, shapes it, breathes life into it. Their world is reduced to digitized visual fragments that need to be precisely shortened, lengthened, or adjusted. It’s therefore unsurprising when cabin-fever-like symptoms surface, an editor’s brain having trouble differentiating between the reality he constructs and the one outside their windows.
In his low-key, breezy film The Outside Story, writer/director Casimir Nozkowski avoids delving too deeply into the claustrophobia caused by isolation – a theme particularly pertinent during the ongoing global pandemic. His decision to make a gentle, touching little ode to rediscovering yourself – as opposed to a dark examination of the human psyche – pays off. Enough depressing features are being released right now. A warm hug of a film, The Outside Story may occasionally stumble and resemble an extended TV pilot, but – largely thanks to its charming protagonist – is bound to (however briefly) reaffirm your faith in humanity.
Charles (Brian Tyree Henry) edits eulogies for celebrities who aren’t dead yet (such as, in the film’s sole macabre joke, Michael Douglas). Charles’ girlfriend Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green) recently left him. “I’m gonna stay inside and feel sorry for myself all day,” he tells his friend over Skype. He’s just about to finish editing an ode to a dying screen legend when an unfortunate encounter with a delivery guy leaves him locked out of his apartment, shoeless.
“…an unfortunate encounter with a delivery guy leaves him locked out of his apartment, shoeless…”
This leads to a series of pleasantly diverting misadventures and confrontations: a threesome of zany swingers; a perilous fire escape; a “fascist” (but actually sweet) neighborhood police officer, Z. Slater (Sunita Mani); Charles’ “star child” neighbor Elena (Olivia Edward) and her domineering mother Juliet (Maria Dizzia); and so on, so forth. In the meantime, flashbacks reveal that Charles’ reclusive nature, his unwillingness to connect with people, his lack of faith in humanity was what prompted Isha’s infidelity. I’ll let you find out whether Charles rediscovers his lust for life and realizes that there’s a huge world outside of his apartment.
Bryan Tyree Henry was exceptional in Donald Glover’s acclaimed FX show Atlanta; he exuded subliminal menace in a small-but-memorable part in Steve McQueen’s Widows. Here, he is the anchor that holds it all together, charismatic and funny and real. A moment where he falls apart, listening to a child playing piano provides a mere hint of the depths the actor could – and should – plumb. The rest of the cast ranges from winsome (Martin-Green exudes sophistication as Isha) to somewhat-grating (child actor Olivia Edward grinning at inappropriate moments).
The premise is thin, but Nozkowski squeezes as much as he can out of it. There are certainly some plot holes (Charles would most certainly call a locksmith, even if “they steal your sh*t”), and not all of the jokes land. Yet the filmmaker has concocted what I call a “cozy lil’ flick,” one that’s perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon when any opportunity to venture outside – even through a digitized prism – is welcome.
"…perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon, when any opportunity to venture outside... is welcome"