fri 24/05/2024

Ruth & Alex | reviews, news & interviews

Ruth & Alex

Ruth & Alex

Portrait of a contemporary New York marriage needs some fixing-up

Seeing double: Diane Keaton's Ruth checks out a portrait of herself in `Ruth & Alex'

All the charm in the world provided by two seasoned pros can't make a satisfying whole out of Ruth & Alex, a glutinous portrait of a longtime marriage that is gently tested when the eponymous couple decide to move house.

Burdened with a bewilderingly wrong-headed pair of subplots, British director Richard Loncraine's film makes only partial use of the off-the-charts amiability and ease of leading players Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman: so much so, in fact, that one wishes the two Oscar-winners had thrown away Charlie Peters's script altogether and started from scratch.

Intermittent voice-overs from Alex (Freeman) clue us into the dilemma facing him and Ruth (Keaton), which has to do with wanting to sell their groovy Brooklyn walk-up so they can move to an apartment with a lift in sufficient time for their old age. (The film was aptly enough called 5 Flights Up when it opened in America in May.)

Having watched property prices escalate as their little corner of the New York world went from a onetime "outpost" to a hipster haven, they allow Ruth's "40-whatever" niece, Lily (a determinedly perky Cynthia Nixon, pictured above), to put the flat on the market. That means tidying up the cluttered studio that is the workplace of Alex, an artist, while Ruth boils up cinnamon sticks on the stove so that their house will feel like a home.

Beyond their front door is an unfolding incident – possibly terror-related – that has sent New York into a tizzy and may threaten the open house that Lily has meticulously planned, down to a sales pitch (she's forever pointing prospective buyers towards the light) that will strike shudders of recognition to anyone who has ever dealt with Foxtons and the like. At the same time, the pair's beloved terrier, Dorothy, has a possibly debilitating illness that threatens to squeeze Ruth and Alex's finances dry – the dog's inevitable surrender to old age there to mirror the terrors that lie in wait for her owners as they advance through the years. (Alex's walk isn't what it used to be, rendering stairs difficult, and his hearing aid means that he may not actually hear the remarks of the obnoxious cabbies that seem to be a New York screen constant.) 

As long as the movie is capturing the unfolding rhythms of a rock-solid relationship that both Keaton and Freeman (pictured above) play with utterly unforced ease, Ruth & Alex is on firm ground; admirers of this wonderful actress will doubtless set the fully companionable spouse she plays here against the nervy, crisis-laden younger wife she essayed so memorably some years ago opposite Albert Finney in the brilliant Shoot the Moon.

While their bi-racial marriage may pass without comment in uber-liberal Brooklyn, assorted flashbacks clue us into an awareness that it in fact was born out of a bygone era when such pairings were illegal in more than half the United States: Korey Jackson and Claire van der Boom deftly handle the challenge of playing the illustrious older actors' younger selves, who are brought together when Ruth poses for the aspirational portrait painter that is Alex.  

Still, one can't help but feel that Loncraine and co haven't quite figured out where the actual drama lies, so have to contrive incidents and conflict rather than letting such antagonisms as there are arise naturally from the characters. There are enough indices of the rough-and-tumble of contemporary New York life – people shoving their way through doors, bored shopkeepers, brusque and self-satisfied potential buyers – to suggest a half-hearted satire on urban mores of the here and now, almost all of which apply no less fully to London. But why retread that familiar ground when you have such ageless players as Keaton and Freeman, content simply to be? The quietly authoritative rumble of Freeman's voice partnered with Keaton's readily engaging laugh has a viewer at, as they say, hello. Much of the rest, I'm sorry to report, is so much hooey.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Ruth & Alex



As long as the movie is capturing the unfolding rhythms of a rock-solid relationship played here with utterly unforced ease, 'Ruth & Alex' is on firm ground


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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