HIFF2020: Ben’s Column – The Outside Story (2020)

The Outside Story (2020)

  • Narrative Feature
  • Director: Casimir Nozkowski
  • Screenwriter: Casimir Nozkowski
  • Cast: Brian Tyree Henry, Sonequa Martin Green, Sunita Mani, Olivia Edward, Asia Kate Dillon

Premise: An introverted editor living a vertical life in his 2nd-floor apartment, always on deadline and in a rut. When Charles locks himself out of his building, he’s forced to go horizontal and confront the world he’s been avoiding in search of a way back inside.

The Outside Story takes a promising conceit – an introverted man must venture out of his comfort zone after locking himself out of his apartment – and stretches it just slightly past the point of wearing out its welcome. Brian Tyree Henry stars as Charles, a video editor for TCM who cuts together “In Memoriam” packages in preparation for a celebrity’s death. As the film opens, Charles is still reeling from his recent breakup with his girlfriend Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green), and inadvertently leaves his keys inside after running outside. This forced interaction with his community enables him to re-evaluate not only the end of his relationship, but his outlook on the outside world.

Henry, who has cemented solid supporting performances in television (Atlanta) and film (Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk), finally gets a chance to prove himself as a capable leading man. Henry mostly carries the film ably, imbuing Charles with plenty of nervous energy. Though there are moments when the actor almost does too much, bordering on making the character unlikeable when he shouldn’t be.

Thankfully, director Casimir Nozkowski surrounds Henry with a well-rounded, capable supporting cast for him to lean on for support. Nozkowski’s version of Brooklyn is truly a melting pot, and the representation helps to make Charles’ world less like such a frightening place. Among those represented are: Andre (Michael Cyril Creighton), Charles’ gay neighbor, who’s also in a polyamorous relationship; a Middle-Eastern traffic cop (Sunita Mani), the closest the film has to an antagonist; Elena (Olivia Edward), the spunky pre-teen who lives above him; and Inez (Asia Kate Dillon), a non-binary acquaintance who learns of his ex. Nozkowski deserves credit not only for adding a welcome bit of diversity, but for writing each character as fully-realized people. Too often, a light-hearted comedy would fill its supporting cast with oddballs and caricatures, but The Outside Story feels like a real place, with real consequences.

The Outside Story’s runtime may be on the shorter side at just under 90 minutes, but even that feels a shade too long for such a simple premise. Charles’s interactions mostly feel genuine, but I found myself wondering in spots whether certain scenes could be trimmed to make the overall narrative feel more impactful. Though each scene serves a larger purpose to make Charles less afraid of the outside world, the dialogue is largely well written and each character has a grounded point-of-view.

It’s become commonplace to connect nearly every 2020 film to some aspect of the pandemic, but the irony between The Outside Story and real life is especially humorous. Here is a protagonist who just wants to stay inside, when the rest of the world is trying to get him to explore his surroundings. Granted, it’s not an invisible disease that Charles is afraid of, but the fear of heartbreak. Home is where he feels safest, where he can feel comfortable. Brian Tyree Henry confidently conveys all of Charles’s worries and makes him feel reasonable in his fears. Let’s just hope that Hollywood takes notice of this feel-good indie film and gives the actor more leading opportunities.

The Outside Story is screening virtually at the 29th Heartland Film Festival from Oct. 8-18.


Ben headshotAbout the Writer: Ben Sears is a life-long Indianapolis resident, husband, and father of two boys, as well as a contributing writer on ObsessiveViewer.com. Aside from watching movies and television, Ben enjoys photography (bensearsphotography.com) and running marathons, but never at the same time. That would be difficult.

 

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