I wish I could have been there for every stage of production for this film. Â Because the story, though seemingly familiar; the direction; and the acting all achieve certain levels of greatness. Â But as a whole, the film falls short by just a hair. There are moments that will paste a grin on your face while other scenes might bring a tear to your eye, but itâ€™s most powerful element is the acting.
Is Anybody There? follows the story of Edward (played by 14 year old Bill Milner, in his second film), a boy who lives in Lark Hall, a retirement home run by his family, who befriends the homeâ€™s newest resident, retired magician, Clarence (Sir Michael Caine). Edward and Clarence fuse a tight bond, but their relationship is strained due to Clarenceâ€™s debilitating health, amongst other personal issues that plague the both of them.
As probably any child surrounded by the old and â€śon their way outâ€ť would, Edward develops a fascination with death and the afterlife. While his parents are overwhelmed and distracted by the struggles of keeping the retirement home running, Edward attempts to capture some sign of an afterlife. In trying to uncover the mysteries of death, Edward hides a tape recorder in the rooms of Lark Hallâ€™s residents and records tapes of audio, hoping to find at least the notion of a ghost. While listening back to the tapes he discovers something, not from the afterlife, but something much more real and devastating.
Bill Milnerâ€™s performance as Edward is delivered very well by the young actor. Itâ€™s honest and fueled with emotion. Milner has a way about him that makes you think heâ€™s been doing this longer than he actually has. His chemistry with Sir Caine is truly something to behold. Itâ€™s mesmerizing to watch him hold his own, while co-starring with one of the most famous, legendary, and respected actors of our time. Â Â
And while on the topic of Sir Michael Caine, it should be duly noted that he gives a tsunami of an emotional performance. Â Caineâ€™s straight-from-the-heart delivery of The Amazing Clarence should be on Oscarâ€™s â€śfilms to remember at awards seasonâ€ť list. Itâ€™s the kind of performance that is so deeply moving and unflinchingly honest that I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if his family, who Iâ€™m sure have seen many of his films, might find themselves unable to watch .Â
Clarence, once renowned for his magic act which he performed with his wife, moves into Lark Hall, his wife now passed, he has no ambition for magic tricks or even life itself. With the encouragement of young Edward, Clarenceâ€™s life starts to take a brighter turn. But, in the face of this new life comes new troubles and past regrets as Clarence slowly becomes senile.Â
The overall tone is dark but not depressing. The film has a bitter-sweet feeling to it. There are some comedic moments, though coming from dark subject matter, which will be the oasis of joy. There is a finely tuned balance of subtle comedy and drama in this film that prevents you from leaving the theater feeling down.
Â I suppose the only major flaw is the fact that it feels like this story has been told before. There are certain clichĂ©s and moments you know are coming, but you wonâ€™t hate the film for it. Director John Crowley, an award-winning theatre director, knows how to direct a performance, and thatâ€™s where this film shines itâ€™s brightest.