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Is Anybody There?

Is Anybody There?

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Interview with Michael Caine; Interview with Anne-Marie Duff; Interview with Bill Milner; Interview with John Crowley; Trailer; Feature Audio Description.

SIR Michael Caine delivers another masterful performance as an ageing magician who befriends the young son of two nursing home owners in this appealing new comedy-drama from John Crowley. Yet his performance is one of many delights that await viewers.

Is Anybody There? may be billed as another quirky British comedy in the style of Son of Rambow but it’s so much more besides… and has a darker tone than first glances suggest.

Ten year-old Edward (Bill Milner) lives in a nursing home where he develops a fascination with death and the afterlife. His Mum (Anne-Marie Duff) is struggling to maintain business, while his Dad (David Morrissey) is in the midst of a mid-life crisis and attempting to have an affair with the YTS trainee.

Just as he’s beginning to lose faith in his existence, Edward meets Clarence (Caine), a retired magician, who comes to stay and with whom he develops an unlikely friendship in spite of the older man’s cantankerous nature.

Crowley’s film, based on a screenplay by Peter Harness, is loaded with astute observations on all aspects of life and death, whether it’s the coming-of-age turmoil of young Edward, the middle-aged struggles of his mum and dad, or the old-age frustrations of its eldest generation.

It’s both funny and poignant in the way it creates a community that’s worth investing time in, and which includes some stalwart British acting greats as Leslie Phillips, Sylvia Syms and the late Elizabeth Spriggs.

Milner delivers another fine, older-than-his years performance as Edward, avoiding the temptation to become too cute or too bratty, but Caine provides a wonderful sparring partner and their banter and interaction afford the film its very best moments.

But Morrissey, Duff and the veteran cast members all get their opportunity to shine, thereby ensuring that the ending leaves a genuinely lasting impression, while giving pause for reflection on the various things it has to say.

Crowley, for his part, strikes a nice balance between the drama and humour, offsetting some quietly tear-jerking moments with laugh-out-loud pratfalls and acerbic wit. And he doesn’t over-egg the ’80s setting, allowing it to peek through rather than become a character, or parody, in itself.

Is Anybody There? may well struggle to find the audience it deserves having been released on the cusp of the blockbuster season, but for anyone willing to give into its charms there’s plenty to enjoy, not least in Caine’s latest star turn. It’s a neat little magic trick from all concerned.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 102mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: September 14, 2009