Is Anybody There?
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It isn’t every day that the Average Joe (or, I suppose, the Average Jane) gets to attend the world premiere of a film—along with the star and various members of the crew. But that’s what attending the Toronto International Film Festival is all about: seeing great movies while rubbing elbows with the filmmakers (or at least snapping pictures of them from afar). At TIFF, a random movie pick could lead to an unforgettable experience—like the premiere of director John Crowley’s Is Anybody There?

Son of Rambow’s Bill Milner stars as Edward, a 10-year-old boy who begrudgingly lives in a nursing home. Before it was a nursing home, it was just Edward’s house—but then, desperate to make a little extra money, Edward’s parents opened up their home (and gave up Edward’s bedroom) to the old and the senile.

Edward resents his elderly housemates, and he avoids them (and people in general) as much as he can. But he also uses them as experiments in the supernatural. He records their dying breaths on a tape recorder, eager to find evidence of some kind of life after death. Needless to say, because of his morbid fascination, he doesn’t have a whole lot of friends.

But Edward’s quiet and almost reclusive existence changes when Clarence (Michael Caine) moves in. The aging magician doesn’t want to be around crazy old people any more than Edward does, so the two eventually build an unlikely friendship. And while Clarence tries to persuade his young friend to get out and make friends, Edward tries to help his bitter old friend find happiness.

Is Anybody There? manages to find the perfect mix of heartstring-tugging drama and easy-going humor. The relationship between the lonely young boy and angry old man is often touchingly beautiful—and sometimes it’s even heartbreaking. But Crowley injects humor into the story at just the right moments (and in just the right doses) to keep the film from feeling too heavy. The batty old ladies at the home (who, incidentally, are played by a number of accomplished—and even legendary—British actresses) add the perfect amount of comic relief—as does naïve and eccentric Edward. At times, in fact, the writing is more than just clever; it’s shockingly funny. And, as a result, you might just find yourself laughing through your tears.

But I doubt that Is Anybody There? would have been such a beautiful—and magical—film without the perfect cast. Milner is once again cute without being cutesey. In fact, the young actor is a delight to watch. And Caine (who was in Toronto for the premiere) gives an award-worthy performance as the aging magician who’s filled with anger and regret. Together, this lovable on-screen team makes Is Anybody There? a film that’s sweet and funny and memorable. So if this magical indie makes its way to a theater near you, don’t miss it.

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