The considerable cinematic charms of Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman are no match for the hell that is the New York real estate market in “5 Flights Up,” a middling comedy about getting old, trying to downsize and running up against real estate agents, hagglers and looky-lous.
If you’ve ever sold anything, you know that last category of gawker. They’re the best running gag in “5 Flights Up,” the assorted flakes, narcissists, power couples and others who acquire nicknames as retired teacher Ruth (Keaton) and never-quite-a-hit painter Alex (Freeman) run into them when their apartment goes on the market, and they in turn visit open houses looking for a place they can move.
“The matching sweaters” and “the dog ladies,” the indulgent mom who thinks her “We don’t say ‘no’ to Justin” little monster is fit to take apartment hunting with her — all part of the pageant Alex narrates as he and Ruth navigate this late-life journey.
Childless, they fret over a dog that has a spinal injury, leaving them with a rising vet bill and one more reason not to live in a fifth floor walk-up apartment.
Cynthia Nixon plays the niece/agent they enlist, the one who figures their 40-year apartment investment is worth a million bucks today.
“Who would have thought the whole of my life’s worth would be worth less than the room I painted it in,” Alex ponders, in that weary grandpa voice Freeman summons when he’s being sweet. Meanwhile, a truck accident that might be a terrorist incident has everybody a little on edge — about how that could impact the price of housing.
Director Richard Loncraine is decades removed from the last significant comedy on his résumé (Michael Palin’s “The Missionary”). As with his Renee Zellweger vehicle, “My One and Only,” the light touch is here, but the gags aren’t. It’s all rather stale, with Keaton stuck on half-speed and Freeman waiting for her to be the funny one.
Nixon scores the film’s one laugh-out-loud moment. Nobody else generates anything more than a weak chuckle. And in flashbacks, nothing is made of the weighty knowledge that Alex and Ruth would have been a pioneering interracial couple, back in their prime.
But even if you’ve never house-shopped in NYC, the flashes of recognition about the indignity of the process, the anger that wells up in clients, buyers and real estate agents as prices are haggled and nerves fray, may win a grin of familiarity or at least sympathy.