'Is Anybody There?': A Body Or Three Too Many

Bill Milner i i

Morbid Curiosity: Bill Milner stars as Edward, a 10-year-old with an interest in death. Story Island Entertainment hide caption

itoggle caption Story Island Entertainment
Bill Milner

Morbid Curiosity: Bill Milner stars as Edward, a 10-year-old with an interest in death.

Story Island Entertainment

Is Anybody There?

  • Director: John Crowley
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 94 minutes

Rated PG-13 for language including sexual references, and some disturbing images.

Michael Caine i i

Dashing Duo: Edward and Clarence, an ailing magician played by Michael Caine, feel out of place at Lark Hall — but at home, eventually, in each others' company. Story Island Entertainment hide caption

itoggle caption Story Island Entertainment
Michael Caine

Dashing Duo: Edward and Clarence, an ailing magician played by Michael Caine, feel out of place at Lark Hall — but at home, eventually, in each others' company.

Story Island Entertainment

Sentimental twaddle should always have a Michael Caine on hand to lend it a touch of credibility — a faint touch indeed, in the case of Is Anybody There?, but enough to make this coming-of-age-meets-coming-of-second-childhood story vaguely bearable.

Caine plays Clarence, an embittered magician who's drifting rapidly into senility when he takes up residence, most reluctantly, in an odd sort of old-age home — a country house near the English seaside, converted by its owners to cater to the needs of the elderly and the infirm. There, he meets Edward (Bill Milner), the death-obsessed 10-year-old son of the owners, and after the two have done a bit of growling at each other, an odd-couple friendship develops.

Clarence sees his own end coming, and he has no interest in it whatsoever. Edward is curious enough about what happens to people after they die that he's taken to hiding microphones near the frailest of the residents, the better to record their final breaths.

As might be expected, a bit of Clarence rubs off on Edward, and vice versa, but director John Crowley isn't able to give the rubbing much flair or apparent purpose.

This is despite a game but mostly wasted cast of old-timers, including Rosemary Harris as a still-sprightly one-legged ballet dancer. Also despite Crowley's demonstrated ability to wrest transcendent, deeply moving drama from dark material (in Boy A on screen, and in Broadway's The Pillowman).

Here, the director goes for something lighter, but he stumbles over Peter Harness' formulaic, scattered screenplay as it tries to make room not just for Edward's tears and Clarence's snarls, but for Dad's midlife crisis, Mom's heroic brio, a magic show, a trip to the beach and a miracle cure for Parkinsonian tremors that involves the chopping off of an elderly man's thumb.

All of this is at once predictable and implausible — a two-hander of a story so overplotted and overpopulated that by the time it's winding up, the question isn't so much Is Anybody There? as it is, "Why on earth are so many bodies here?"

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