“Is Anybody There?”
 
            You can’t put too much weight on this movie.  It won’t hold it.  It’s small in scope, and, as blockbuster films go, small in stature, as well.  But there’s something winsome about it, anyway.
            Bill Milner (of “Son Of Rambow”) plays Edward, the little boy being raised in a nursing home that his parents own.  He’s quiet, keeps to himself a lot, and watches the old people with a mixture of clinical curiosity, and ill-disguised loathing.  He tells his mother he wants his room back.  When somebody died in there, he’d secretly put a tape recorder underneath the bed, so he could see if there was anything to learn about their “transition.”  He seems to have a morbid fascination about death, possibly because it’s closer to him than it is to other boys his age.  He’s seen more of it.  And he isn’t scared of it, he insists, but his “research” does drive him farther into his own little world, which his parents don’t seem to notice.  It’s not that they bicker constantly, it’s just that they work separately all the time (she’s the cook, administrator, and personal assistant, he’s the handyman and groundskeeper), and don’t seem to pay a lot of attention to each other.  She’s so constantly distracted that she doesn’t notice that he’s flirting with their only employee, a part-time maid, who’s still a teenager.  Edward notices, though, and is distressed by both his mother’s obliviousness and his father’s lasciviousness. 
            The dynamics change when a new resident moves in, Clarence (Michael Caine), who at first blusters about like a lonely old grump, but something softens in him when he sees that the delicate, awkward boy is also lonely.  Clarence and Edward begin an unlikely friendship:  the sputtering old retired magician and the would-be magician’s apprentice, surrogate grandfather and surrogate grandson, neither granting affection easily, both quick to tell each other to “bugger off,” both considering the other residents with a volatile mixture of contempt and connection, usually just alternating between the two.  There’s a powerful scene in the car together, where Clarence, clearly starting to “lose it” mentally, thinks that Edward’s mother is his long-departed beloved wife, who left him because he cheated on her.  With tears in his eyes, he begs her forgiveness, and she, bless her, has the grace to grant it to him, and now he can truly depart in peace (Luke 2:29).  This, after he’d confided to the boy that regrets cling to you when you’re old like a rotten smell that just won’t go away.
            Redemptive?  Yes, definitely.  But not really schmaltzy, or as formulaic as it sounds.  There’s something that clicks between Edward and Clarence, but the rest of the performers don’t add as much as they should.  “Is Anybody There?” is not a huge, ambitious film project, but it’s a quiet little story that definitely has its fine moments.  Don’t expect too much.  But a sensitive and discerning moviegoer could do a lot worse.
 
Questions For Discussion:
1)      When have you learned to appreciate a reluctant relationship with someone nowhere near your age?
2)      When has regret clung to you like a rotten smell?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas