The Outside Story (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): As he is stuck outside

“The Outside Story” is a small but likable film which does a commendable job of handling its very simple comic promise. When I watched its trailer a few weeks ago, I had a pretty good idea on how it is about, and the movie does not exceed my expectation that much, but it still often amused and entertained me via a series of humorous moments to be cherished for considerable wit and warmth.

Mainly set in one neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City, the movie looks into one rather eventful day of Charles Young (Brian Tyree Henry), a filmmaker who has been miserably concentrating on his current work since his lawyer girlfriend Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green) left him due to their recent breakup. When we see him and his apartment at the beginning of the film, it is evident that he has been stuck inside his apartment for days, but he does not care much about how messy his apartment is, and his depressed mind is mostly occupied with completing a memorial video clip for some well-known old movie actor who is expected to die sooner or later.

When Charles is almost finishing his memorial video clip, a food delivery guy arrives as expected, but then there comes a little trouble. He belatedly realizes that he does not have extra cash for tipping the delivery guy, so he is understandably embarrassed while the delivery guy is not pleased about that. When he unexpectedly finds some more money in the apartment shortly after that, Charles hurriedly goes outside for giving the tip to the delivery guy, and, fortunately, the delivery guy has not left yet, but, unfortunately, Charles subsequently finds that he left his apartment with a wrong set of keys.

Consequently being locked out of his apartment, Charles naturally tries to find any possible way to get into the apartment, but his several different attempts only lead to more frustration for him. For example, he tries to enter his apartment via the fire escape of the apartment building, and that only causes considerable inconvenience for one of his neighbors, who happens to be about to have a little kinky private meeting with a couple from Oslo, Norway. Charles later tries to call his landlord, but the landlord happens to be very busy with a personal business of his, and Charles simply cannot wait for his landlord because of the frequent calls and text messages from his employer, who wants Charles to send that memorial video clip as soon as possible.

As he reluctantly spends more time outside his apartment without any progress, Charles comes across a number of different people in his neighborhood. There is a little precocious girl who is living right below his apartment along with her neurotic actress mother, and she turns out to be quite more helpful than expected. In case of an old lady living in the apartment building right next to Charles’, she kindly offers him some footwears because he forgot wearing his sneakers when he left his apartment at that time, and he is delighted when it turns out that she saw some of the movies where that dying movie actor appears.

And there is also a female police officer who is a bit too strict about the parking rule in Charles’ neighborhood. Although their first encounter is not so pleasant to say the least, she subsequently comes to show some compassion and generosity to him, and, when they get a bit hungry, she even takes him to a certain nice spot he never visited before even though it is quite near to his apartment building.

As bouncing from one episodic moment to another along with its hero, the screenplay by director/writer/co-producer Casimir Nozkowski occasionally goes back to those good old times between Charles and Isha. They met each other at a party, and, though Charles was pretty awkward for being not so social to say the least, it did not take much time for them to get attracted to each other as they interacted more with each other.

And we also get to know what caused their breakup, which still hurts Charles a lot as shown from his accidental encounter with a person involved with that. Things naturally get a bit tense between these two characters, but then the movie takes an unexpected turn, and that leads to another good laugh while giving us (and Charles) a lesson on the importance of honesty, trust, and tolerance in romantic relationship.

The movie certainly depends a lot on the talent and presence of its lead actor, and Brian Tyree Henry, who has been more prominent during last several years thanks to his Emmy-nominated supporting turn in TV comedy series “Atlanta” in addition to several notable performances in “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018) and “Widows” (2018), carries the film well while ably balancing his performance between humor and pathos. Besides effortlessly handling his comic moments with good timing, Henry also subtly conveys to us the pain and melancholy behind his character’s hulking appearance, and we come to root for Charles when he becomes a bit more active during the expected finale.

The other main cast members revolving around Henry bring enough life and personality to their respective supporting roles. While Sonequa Martin-Green brings some warmth to her flashback scenes with Henry, Sunita Mani has a couple of funny moments as the aforementioned female police officer, and young actress Olivia Edward functions as an effective counterpart to Henry.

Overall, “The Outside Story” is a modest but enjoyable piece of work, and it certainly demonstrates well that Nozkowski, who made a number of short documentary films before making a feature film debut here, is a good director who knows how to handle mood, story, and characters. I usually prefer indoor environment because that is more comfortable for me, but the movie makes me want to get out and then appreciate a bit of the world outside, and I guess that is more than enough for recommendation.

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