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edge staff writer


A whole new world – ‘The Outside Story’

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Being out in the world can be difficult. So often, we find ourselves wanting nothing more than to forget about what’s out there and bury ourselves into the insular realms that we have built for ourselves. Some believe that all the connection we need can be found within our own four walls.

But what if the ones we love want more? And what if we’re forced by circumstance to venture forth and engage, even if it’s the last thing we want to do?

“The Outside Story” offers answers to those questions. Written and directed by Casimir Nozkowski – his feature debut in both capacities – and starring Brian Tyree Henry, it’s a quirky and intimate look at urban life reflected through the eyes of an introvert who is forced by circumstance to engage with his immediate surroundings in a way he never has before.

Driven by thoughtful, grounded performances, it’s a story of what it means to be a part of the world. It’s about what can happen – both good and bad – when we are forced out of our comfort zones. We can struggle against it or fully embrace it, but either way, we will be changed by the act of engagement.

Charles (Henry) is a video editor living in New York City. He’s dealing with the aftermath of a recent breakup – his girlfriend Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green, TV’s “Star Trek: Discovery”) cheated on him and is in the process of moving out. He’s on a deadline of sorts – his job is crafting video memorials for Turner Classic Movies, and a noted actor is on his deathbed. Charles’s boss expects that video ASAP.

He orders delivery, but is short on cash for the tip. When he returns to his apartment, he finds a few bucks and runs out to chase down the delivery guy to make it right. However, when he comes back, he discovers an unfortunate reality: he left his keys.

He’s locked out.

His phone is running out of juice. He doesn’t have any money. Heck, he’s not even wearing shoes. And so, one of the longest days of his life begins.

Charles is an introvert, someone with little interest in interacting with the world. At first, Isha was a willing partner in this isolation, but her desire to engage with the outside proved to be one of the issues that led to her betrayal. So the idea of being forced to interact with other people – his neighbors and the like – is foreign and frightening to him. And yet, he must.

He has a number of encounters with one neighbor named Andre (Michael Cyril Creighton, “Paper Spiders”), who grows increasingly exasperated as Charles continually interrupts his efforts to engage in sexy times with a cheerful Icelandic couple. He meets Elena (Olivia Edward, TV’s “Better Things”) as well, a quietly talented young girl who lives directly above him.

It’s not just in his building, either. He meets the recently widowed Sara (Lynda Gravatt, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.) who lives in the building next door and helps the extremely pregnant Paige (Hannah Bos, “Driveways”) with some chalk signage for her stoop sale. He even starts smoothing over an antagonistic relationship with parking cop Officer Slater (Sunita Mani, “Evil Eye”) into something resembling friendship.

All the while, he’s receiving increasingly frantic and threatening texts from his boss about the memorial and he can’t seem to stop talking about Isha and his feelings with regard to how she treated him, even as those around him gently suggest that perhaps there’s more to the situation.

“The Outside Story” is a charming story of what happens when we’re forced out of our comfort zones. In the case of Charles, he is literally locked out of his safe space – he has no choice but to venture out into a world that he has long expressed no interest in exploring. But that reluctance has to spring from somewhere, and as Charles spends more time interacting with the people nearby – people to whom he has been in close proximity for years without ever engaging – he’s forced to accept the idea that perhaps other people do have something to offer.

There’s a wonderful insularity to the film – with a couple of exceptions, the entire thing takes place on a single block, and the majority of THAT is in front of or in Charles’s building. That smallness serves as a wonderful representation of Charles’s own worldview; even in a huge and vibrant city, he has limited his experience to just the smallest slice of it. By allowing his outlook to be colored by his personal and professional setbacks, he has effectively isolated himself; he lives in a world where no one is allowed in, no matter how close they may be (either physically or emotionally).

Brian Tyree Henry breathes life into this story. There’s a layered energy to his portrayal that endows the character with complexity that would otherwise be absent; so much of Charles’s personality could be viewed as unlikable, but through nuanced performance and undeniable charisma, Henry shapes him into a figure for whom we can’t help but root. It’s great work.

The supporting cast shines as well. Edward is a quietly shining delight as the soft-spoken Elena; she gives a performance that belies her years. Creighton is an utter hoot as the increasingly put-upon Andre; even when he reluctantly engages with Charles, his inner snark can’t help but push through. Mani manages to pull off both toughness and gentleness with equal aplomb. Gravatt and Bos are great as well, as is Martin-Green, even in relatively limited action.

“The Outside Story” is precisely the sort of movie that we should seek out, a quiet, under-the-radar work that is nonetheless well and thoughtfully made. With a breakout turn from Henry and a stellar supporting cast, it’s a wonderful look at the importance of not just observing the world, but being a part of it.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 03 May 2021 09:26


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