Director: Richard Loncraine
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, Cynthia Nixon
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Earlier this week, research by PwC predicted that in 10 years’ time, the majority of Brits aged between 20 and 40 will be renting a home, because buying a property costs too much. So Ruth & Alex, a film that demands our sympathy for an elderly couple struggling to offload their million-dollar Manhattan apartment, was never going to be an easy sell.
The couple, we learn, have lived in the condo for years, during which time its value has, inevitably, rocketed. But with no lift, and Morgan Freeman’s artist finding that his paintings no longer sell, the pair get itchy feet and decide to move.
This isn’t the first time this year we’ve had to deal with the real estate sorrows of well-off Americans with an artistic flair – Love Is Strange, starring Alfred Molina and John Lithgow, saw an older gay couple (one of them a painted) couch-surfing after being evicted because of their marital status. Where their enduring bond was uplifting in its sincerity, though, Ruth & Alex’s relationship has little of that story’s wit and depth.
Freeman and Keaton are likeable presences, with a convincing chemistry, but they’re far from hard done by; flashbacks to them as a young couple in an age of prejudice and trying to make ends meet, raise interesting questions but these remain unanswered. Instead, we are treated to the repetitive cycle of the real estate market, from open houses to offers and back. Cynthia Nixon is enjoyably spiky as the determined broker with her commission at heart instead of her clients, but this is far from a sharp satire; any sharp edges that director Richard Loncraine brought to his 1995 take on Richard III are dulled by fuzzy schmaltz.
There’s a lot of talk of light coming into the rooms and open space, something that only emphasises the warm, glowing tone of the gentle drama; the biggest source of tension is a background story involving a possible terrorist attack, a subplot about Ruth and Alex’s sick dog, and whether Morgan Freeman can still climb the stairs. There is something to be said for a story that is comfortable enough to focus on the everyday over melodramatic contrivance, and Freeman’s grumpy old man is a believable contrast to Keaton’s more upbeat wife. But as the film builds its make-do-with-what-you’ve-got message – something hard to swallow when our leads start illogically searching for a more expensive property – the tedium of the house-hunting process soon sets in. Sometimes, things can be a little too realistic.