April 30th, 2021
MOVIE: THE OUTSIDE STORY
STARRING: BRIAN TYREE HENRY, SONEQUA MARTIN-GREEN, SUNITA MANI, OLIVIA EDWARD
DIRECTED BY: CASIMIR NOZKOWSKI
AMovieGuy’s RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The concept of The Outside Story is adorable enough of a reason to enjoy Casimir Nozkowski’s debut feature. It’s a movie such as this that cheers me up and fights against my cynicism, but because it’s almost too cute, it’s a shock that it exists in 2021. Brain Tyree Henry stars as Charles Young, a man that works for Turner Classic Movies, writing obituaries for movie stars that have or will eventually die. It’s a bit morbid, but he’s a guy that passionately loves what he does, plus he’s good at it. We’re catching Charles at a bad time, where he’s stuck on writing, and his girlfriend Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green) has recently split things off with him. Then what sends him into an even bigger rutt, to top it all off, is he accidentally locks himself out of his apartment. What follows is a long day in the neighborhood, with Charles stuck on his stoop, interacting with various characters, his neighbors, the police officer on the beat, the pesky kids that like to cause trouble, food deliverers, and more. The Outside Story is a cute independent film that has nice things going for it, but quickly runs out of reasons for us to stick around.
At first there’s promise that maybe a neighbor or the landlord will be there to help Charles, but with each passing moment there’s a roadblock. The push and pull of the day becomes both preposterously fun and annoying. Charles’ neighbor Andre (Michael Cyril Creighton) is kind enough to let him go through the fire escape to get in, but the window is locked, and that’s as far as neighbor hospitality goes. While on the escape a police officer named Slater (Sunita Mani) takes notice and now Charles is being questioned about breaking into his own house. And these types of interactions go from one to the next. Charles befriends the police officer, samples her favorite sandwich stop, and then connects with his younger and talented piano playing neighbor Elena (Olivia Edward), all in an expression of patient time passing before he can get back inside.
One of the surprising parts about The Outside Story is how it shows off the versatility of Tyree Henry. The Godzilla vs. Kong star is showing up in a variety of different movies and here he’s flashing his comedic side. His performance as Charles is obviously the strongest part, because without him there’s nobody this gentle to root for. It’s arguable that Henry’s kindness is also what makes The Outside Story too rosey to begin with. The weather is nice in New York City, and the neighborhood looks like a realistic version of Sesame Street, where the police officer has no tension after accusing a Black man of breaking into his house, the kids in the neighborhood throw things at Charles without consequences, and random conversations start up without fear of a mugging. In short, The Outside Story exists in a fantasy land, a city that could only be in a movie, because anywhere else would be a dream.
Mixed in between Charles’ long day are flashbacks to when he first met Isha, charming dates they experienced, and memories of where their relationship started to go south. The balance of the various plots works in spurts, with the screenplay also written by Nozkowski, and I can’t fault someone for making a movie that hopes to celebrate a world where people can all get along. Sadly, I might be the wrong person to watch this movie, where I couldn’t get over the fact that a majority of the characters feel forced, and non-existent in reality. All along the way, we are only seeing the surface of Charles and where he went wrong in losing the love of his life.
It’s possible that my lower rating on The Outside Story is a matter of cynicism winning over charm, but that would imply that it was charming enough. Sadly, it’s not. Brian Tyree Henry is doing strong work, showing versatility, and an ability to carry a narrative on his back. Everything else is missing a bit more spark. That’s not to say it’s not a movie to check out. If it catches you in the right mood you might leave happy to be a part of this cheery neighborhood. Lord knows we could use more of them during these times. The Outside Story is sweet enough to leave you with a smile. Or at least a smirk.
THE OUTSIDE STORY IS AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL AND VOD THIS FRIDAY APRIL 30TH
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady