Review by James Lindorf
According to the French playwright Jean-Paul Sartre “Hell is other people.” It is true that opening yourself to others invites heartache but shutting them out also cuts off avenues to laughter, joy, and love. In “The Outside Story,” this is the internal struggle of broken-hearted video editor and homebody Charles Young (Brian Tyree Henry). Already preferring the outside world in small doses, Charles wants to block out everyone after being betrayed by his girlfriend Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green). Fate has another plan for him, and when Charles locks himself out of his apartment, he is forced to rely on the neighbors who barely knew he existed. Charles’ dynamic group of previously avoided neighbors includes traffic warden Sunita Mani, latch key kid Olivia Edward and swinger Michael Cyril Creighton. They each show him that everyone’s got issues, and it always helps to have someone to help you talk through your problems. Samuel Goldwyn Films will make this charming dramedy available through VOD starting April 30th.
Charles is in a dark place during the opening minutes. He is lonely, heartbroken, and his career as the editor and creator of video obituaries weighs on him. His excitement at giving a moody delivery driver a good tip evaporates when he realizes that he grabbed the wrong keys in his rush. What follows is a comedy of errors elevated by the heartwarming moments of writer and director Casimir Nozkowski’s feature debut. “The Outside Story” feels more like a collection of set pieces that would be perfect for adapting into a play. A scene here and back to the stoop, a scene there, and back to the porch, the story is more about his transformation than the actual events of the day. It is the characters he created and the performance of especially Henry but the rest of the cast as well that bring life to this collection of moments. Charles is the best and most well-rounded character. The rest may be a tad simplistic or overly quirky, or precocious. Still, it is only a problem that comes with deeper introspection. On the surface, “The Outside Story” is a charming, light-hearted message about the importance of community.
It is hard to pick the best relationship in the film. Though their relationship is always on Charles’ mind, their characters simply don’t get enough time together to make much of an impact. The race is really between the food-obsessed parking enforcement officer Slater (Mani), who loves to give out tickets, and the surprisingly well-adjusted Elena (Edward). The new budding friendship between Slate and Charles is the comedic soul of the film. At the same time, Charles and Elena are its heart, making it a nearly impossible choice that can only be made in the moment. Whether you were more in the mood for a laugh or a cry will determine which new friendship is your favorite.
From the stoop to the rooftop, from the park to his neighbor’s bathroom, “The Outside Story” shows you the fantastic things you can find in just a few city blocks. Nozkowski filled his screenplay with thought-provoking plot lines about our fascination with celebrity deaths, trust and betrayal in relationships, and the danger of overbearing parents. For every depressing moment, there is an endearing one that will make you want to say hi to your neighbors. Like much of the advice Charles receives, When it comes to “The Outside Story,” relax, don’t overthink it, and enjoy the experience for what it is. Maybe you’ll even learn to love it for its rough edges, not despite them.
Director: Casimir Nozkowski
Writer: Casimir Nozkowski
Cinematography: Zelmira Gainza
Release date: April 30, 2021 (USA)
Runtime: 1h 25m