It’s not mind-blowing or overly deep, but The Outside Story is pleasant enough, especially in the performance of lead Brian Tyree Henry.
Depending on how one chooses to view the situation, the release of writer-director Casimir Nozkowski’s The Outside Story could come at either the most fortuitous or ironic of times. In telling the story of unmotivated documentary filmmaker Charles Young (Brian Tyree Henry), a man who would rather spend his days squirreled away in his apartment ordering take-out and surfing the web, Nozkowski asks us to feel sympathy for someone who fully rejects a Covid-free New York City, where the bustling streets are filled with mask-less individuals living life to its fullest. As restrictions have begun to loosen across America due to millions of administered vaccinations, real-life people are finally able to again experience the freedoms that the fictional Charles has so judiciously avoided simply because he is comfortable, and so viewers will be forgiven for any knee-jerk reactions that regard him as something of an insufferable gripe. Forced to spend a day in the outdoors he loathes due to accidentally locking his keys in his apartment, Charles discovers that, whoa, the city is pretty cool, and so are the people that make up its population, including a ten-year-old piano prodigy (Olivia Edward) with an abhorrent mother, a recently-widowed neighbor (Lynda Gravatt) who wants to join the online dating scene, and a police officer (Sunita Mani) whose rough exterior hides a heart of gold. It turns out the food scene is pretty fantastic, too, because, would you look at that, it’s New York City.
A character study so thin that a soft breeze through Central Park could blow it over, The Outside Story forces Charles out of his comfort zone so that he can learn to appreciate his recent ex-girlfriend, Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green), a carefree individual who also cheated on him and who the film weirdly paints as a victim, bending over backward to defend her actions because, well, Charles is boring. It’s a peculiar choice, but whatever. For such a lightweight film, Nozkowski lays on the metaphors molasses-thick, making Charles an editor of “In Memoriam” segments for the TCM Network, his specialty being celebrities who have yet to die. You see, Charles is alive, but he’s not really living. (Insert mind blown emoji.) But despite these myriad faults, which also include a forced and unearned happy ending, The Outside Story is a pleasant enough viewing experience on the strength of Henry, finally given the opportunity to take center stage and prove his mettle as a future leading man. A charming and charismatic actor with effortless presence, he shares an easy rapport with all of his co-stars, and the episodic structure of the story at least ensures that if any special guest star or plot thread is too dull, we won’t have to spend much time with it anyway. Of course, if one actually wants to experience The Outside Story, they will have to stay indoors, and frankly, the alternative is far more appealing, as the film makes crystal clear. Talk about ironic.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | April 2021.