Is Anybody There?
2008, PG-13, 95 min. Directed by John Crowley. Starring Michael Caine, Bill Milner, David Morrissey, Charli Janeway, Anne-Marie Duff, Rosemary Harris, Angie Inwards.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 1, 2009
"Rage, rage against the dying of the light," mutters Caine as an aging magician put out to pasture at a Yorkshire retirement home. The Dylan Thomas quotation is entirely appropriate, although not perhaps in the manner screenwriter Peter Harness meant. Caine's Amazing Clarence has been cornered not only by the Grim Reaper but also by his own failing mind. It's not so much the white light at the end of the tunnel he needs to be concerned about as it is the fast-fading light of reason itself. For Clarence, a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic toward all things supernatural and paranormal (not counting the magician's trickery, mind you), it's as though the very Enlightenment itself were being snuffed out. Another reason for Clarence to rage comes in the form of 11-year-old Edward (Son of Rambow's Milner), a budding theosophist whose mum (Duff) and dad (Morrissey) run the Dotty Codgers & British Actors Retirement Home – that's what it ought to be named, anyway – where Clarence finally pulls off his ultimate disappearing act. It's the sort of mummified palace of wisdom that turns up every now and again in the movies; you may recognize it from "Kick the Can," Steven Spielberg's Twilight Zone: The Movie episode; the Cocoon movies; On Golden Pond; or even from Benjamin Button. Wherever you find it, you can be sure there will be a youngster somewhere in the vicinity to provide counterpoint to the sage if occasionally obvious wisdom of the near-departed. For Caine, an actor who has never to my knowledge given a bad performance (Mr. Destiny was bad scripting, not bad acting), this means he gets the plum role of “granddad” to the wee outsider Edward. Milner is every bit as promising a young actor as he was in Rambow, although he's given somewhat less to do here. Mostly, he monkeys about with a tape recorder seeking proof of life after death, humorously and otherwise. This is Caine's show all the way, of course. He still rivets the eye and bends the ear as much as he did in Alfie, or, more recently, the overlooked gem A Shock to the System. But, on the whole, there are precious few life lessons in Is Anybody There? that haven't been noted before: Stop and smell the roses, have no regrets, and don't attempt to saw anybody in half while in the throes of dementia. Abracadabra, indeed.