It takes a film of depth, dealing with issues which effect us all, to stand out from a field saturated, as today’s cinema is, by an increasing amount of flimsy and instantly forgettable popcorn fodder. A perfect example of this is Ruth & Alex, the new drama from director Richard Loncraine, starring Diane Keaton, Morgan Freeman and Cynthia Nixon in roles for which they seem tailor-made: combining the difficulties of big city life – in particular negotiating the pitfalls of the property market – and the age old questions love and belonging, here is a film which tackles the complexities of contemporary life with wit, warmth and charm.
Ruth & Alex follows Brooklynite Ruth Carver (Keaton) and her husband Alex (Freeman) – who have lived in the same apartment overlooking the East River towards Lower Manhattan for the past forty years – over two days, as they face major incidents which could have devastating effects on their future. Due to health reasons – and with gentle persuasion from Ruth’s niece Lilly (Nixon) who is acting as their real estate advisor – they have agreed to move to Manhattan. However a number of things – including their beloved pooch Dorothy falling ill, and several less than pleasant people viewing their home – conspire to make them reevaluate their lives, with unexpected results.
Even if they’ve never been there, most film fans feel as though they know New York. The insomniac city which stands at the gateway to America, has featured so much in American film, that the cinema going public, no matter where they come from, will have some form of empathy or familiarity with the the Big Apple through a means of filmic osmosis: here is a vibrant, pulsating being as human as the flesh and blood characters which people her. Which is what this film is all about – being human.
Originally entitled 5 Flights Up – appropriate considering that the wearisome flights of stairs to Ruth and Alex’s apartment plays a major role in their decision to move home – the title it’s being released under in the UK seems equally apt, as this film is ultimately about two people, whilst a myriad of others flit briefly through their world. The story at the heart of Ruth & Alex, based on the novel Heroic Measures by Jill Ciment, is of love, not just between two people, but also between them and the important things in life like family – in this case their dog Dorothy – and the place they live. When compared with everything else they realise that other issues don’t matter – once you get the core elements right the rest usually falls into place.
As said New York, both Brooklyn and Manhattan, is the fourth person – after their dog Dorothy – in the Carver’s lives, as real to them as the human beings that hover in their orbit and try to effect their decisions for better or worse. As they wrestle with their emotions whilst deciding where they want to live, it becomes clear to the viewer that the place you reside in – whether large or small – becomes a part of you the longer you remain there and that, like Ruth and Alex, you are most happy when you are at one with whom or where you live.