Written by: Robin C. Farrell | April 29th, 2021
The Outside Story (Casimir Nozkowski, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
What could be more fitting right now than a film about fearing the world beyond the safety of our own home? In The Outside Story, broken-hearted video editor Charles (Brian Tyree Henry, Godzilla vs. Kong) unwittingly locks himself out of his apartment, thus forced to venture out into his community for help, and in more ways than he anticipates. The film winds up being a bit of a mixed bag, however. Given the past year’s isolation and monitoring proximity to other people, this was poised to strike an extremely relevant chord and, in some ways, it does. The Outside Story presents itself as a romance, but it’s really – or perhaps should have been – an unexpected tale of inner maturity. Charles’ challenge is to see beyond his own bubble and put the needs of another first.
In his first big-screen lead role, Henry deftly portrays Charles as inherently relatable and endearing. In fact, the film avoids a lot of the cringey clichés one might expect. Charles is not a stereotype or shut-in, nor does he possess some sort of tactlessly-written behavioral disorder. He’s merely a homebody and a bit apathetic; but he’s never cruel and when he does get frustrated, it makes sense. He is surrounded by an array of fantastic supporting characters, none of whom get much screen time but really shine, both in the writing and performances. The relationship between Charles and Officer Slater (Sunita Mani, Save Yourselves!) is the true heart and soul of the film and we could have used significantly more of her plus their rapport.
And therein lies the downside. The film really doesn’t have an emotional core, with multiple plot lines spread thin. Events and interactions, though plausible, fall flat where they might have dug deeper. Henry and Sonequa Martin-Green (Holiday Rush), as Isha, have lovely chemistry, but the film doesn’t quite lay the groundwork between the characters, so the romantic arc comes off a bit undercooked. Charles admits over the course of the film that he’s stuck and doesn’t want to stay that way, but that evolution is muddled.
However, while so much is in play, the pacing never feels rushed. There is no villain here and the film takes a sympathetic view of all characters involved – even the police officers – yet it’s not saccharine. It stays believable, even with the most ridiculous gags. The film is a bit strange, overall, but pleasant and decent, and leaves you with the well-meaning message that most of us are just imperfect people, going about our lives. We look out for each other, even in small ways, and not always right away. Plus, our indoors (our comfort zones) aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be there for us when they get back.