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The Keaton-Freeman Stairway to Heaven

Put your money down on '5 Flights Up'



Rating: PG-13
Run time: 1 hour 32 minutes
 Morgan Freeman, Korey Jackson, Diane Keaton, Cynthia Nixon, Claire van der Boom
Director: Richard Loncraine

spinner image Five Flights Up, Diane Keaton, Morgan Freeman
Ruth (Keaton) and Alex (Freeman) decide to put their beloved apartment up for sale and seek out more age-appropriate digs.
Courtesy of Focus Features

I'd pay good money to see Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman in a bad movie.

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Their new film, 5 Flights Up, didn't give me that chance.

In it, Keaton and Freeman play a happily married couple facing the blissful uncertainties of life together past 60. It's not a bad movie at all — and in the scenes where the two superstars are allowed to play out crucial moments between longtime lovers, 5 Flights Up is positively transcendent.

Ruth and Alex have spent their entire marriage in the same fifth-floor Brooklyn walk-up, the girders of the Williamsburg Bridge rising above the rooftops of their neighborhood. They love the place almost as much as they love each other. Every time they arrive home, however, each stair reminds them of the approaching day when that five-floor climb will no longer be tenable.

At the urging of a real-estate-agent friend (Cynthia Nixon, chirpy and energetic in a comically annoying way), Ruth and Alex decide to put their beloved apartment up for sale and seek out more age-appropriate digs. At the same time, crises, both domestic and foreign, complicate the process. The childless pair's pooch, Audrey, must have a dangerous surgery, while the city itself has gone on high alert: The police are hunting a suspected terrorist who abandoned what may or may not be a bomb-laden truck on the Williamsburg Bridge.

Frankly, my interest in the story line of 5 Flights Up waxed and waned. The terrorist subplot — an obvious reminder that not only old folks dwell in a world of shadowy uncertainty — is mostly a distraction. And the parade of lookie-loos who flock to Ruth and Alex's open house tend to grate more than they entertain.

Flashbacks give us a taste of what Ruth and Alex endured as an interracial couple 40 years ago. Korey Jackson is fine as young Alex, but Claire van der Boom's performance as youthful Ruth is so spot-on that you may think you're watching outtakes of Keaton on the set of Annie Hall. Race, however, is only a subtext here. These two have been so in love for so long — and have moved so far beyond those early troubles — that only a spoilsport would introduce racial tension into their later years. Besides, this is Brooklyn, where they were greeted with open arms 40 years ago. Why would that change now?

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Many a narrative trap awaits a later-life love story like 5 Flights Up, and I was certainly on the lookout for them: When will we learn one of the principals has a fatal disease? Which one is surely suffering the early stages of dementia? I got to thinking it was just a matter of time before one of them took a tumble down those five flights.

It's no spoiler to reveal that none of my fears came to fruition. A pleasant film about good people who arrive at a happy ending, it may not turn Academy heads at Oscar time. But the breezy presence of Keaton and Freeman feels like a visit with old friends, making 5 Flights Upa warmhearted reminder that there's no express elevator through life's tougher climbs.

Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.

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