Stream It or Skip It?

Now on VOD, The Outside Story is a small showcase for a soon-to-be-big star, Brian…

Now on VOD, The Outside Story is a small showcase for a soon-to-be-big star, Brian Tyree Henry. He’s an Emmy nominee for his work in Atlanta; his film credits include Godzilla vs. Kong, If Beale Street Could Talk, Widows and the Child’s Play remake; next, you’ll see him in Joe Wright’s The Woman in the Window and Chloe Zhao’s Marvelstravaganza Eternals. So before he goes stratospheric, don’t overlook this BTH showcase, a clever indie gem that gives him the opportunity to be a headliner. (Review spoiler alert: He makes the most of it.)

The Gist: Charles (Henry) doesn’t go out much, and it did in his relationship with Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green). They didn’t see friends very often, they ordered takeout too much, he resisted going out, she kissed and did some other stuff with someone else. Boxes of her belongings, mostly packed and ready to go, clutter his apartment. He’s a freelance video editor who assembles the “in memoriam” segments for the Turner Classic Movies channel — but he has to do it before screen stars die so the pieces are ready to be aired in a timely fashion, and yes, that’s a bit morbid. He’s a moviemaker himself, with a documentary in a hard drive somewhere, perennially unfinished. One-sheets for The Thin Blue Line and I Am Not Your Negro hang on his walls. Charles knows movies; Charles is a MOVIE KNOWER.

One day he’s moping around the apartment and orders takeout, the same takeout that likely came in the many empty containers strewn on the counter. (Most Depressed Movie People have Chinese-takeout boxes on the coffee table; Charles appears to prefer Mexican.) The delivery guy (Jordan Carlos) arrives, the price went up, Charles doesn’t have enough cash for a tip, the delivery guy gets testy, as he should, Charles apologizes, goes back up to the apartment, finds some cash, dashes down the steps and outside, chases down the delivery guy, gives him a tip, asks for $1 back (he’s already tipping 25 percent, he pleads), walks back up the sidewalk and realizes he’s locked out. Locked the eff out. In Brooklyn. In his socks. His polka-dot socks. With one measly buck in his pocket. At least he has his phone; we may not always have our house keys, but we always have our phones, don’t we?

Charles leaves voicemail for a friend who might have a spare key. His landlord is taking his mother to the dentist. He gets persistent texts from his boss — a big-name actor is on his deathbed, and where’s the memorial segment? He’s expecting a package from UPS. He has the keys to Isha’s car so he can move it before it gets a ticket. Charles has spent so much time inside that he barely knows his neighbors. Well, here’s his chance. Funny, how several of them know Isha and know Charles only as Isha’s boyfriend who’s always inside.

On the fourth floor is Andre (Michael Cyril Creighton), who doesn’t take kindly to Charles constantly asking for a favor; after all, Andre’s in the middle of a threesome with a happy-go-lucky Norwegian couple. On the third floor is Elena (Olivia Edward), a 10-ish-year-old girl who camps out on the roof and whose mother is a bit crazy. Next door is a widow who wants help setting up an online dating profile. Over yonder is a very pregnant woman hosting a stoop sale to make room for the baby. Around the corner are a couple of mischievous boys with water balloons. Charles’ weirdo buddy shows up with a sackful of keys, and he doesn’t know what they unlock. The most hated person on the block is Officer Slater (Sunita Mani), because she hands out the parking tickets with cold, nigh-fascist flair. These are all good people, except maybe for the little shits with the balloons. This is the life outside his door, and it’s a saga. A saga, I tell you.

THE OUTSIDE STORY MOVIE
Photo: Everett Collection

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Character-driven indies like The Station Agent, Hello, My Name is Doris and late-career Lily Tomlin gem Grandma are similarly small-scale, funny and lightly poignant.

Performance Worth Watching: Henry gives some heavier content — depression, infidelity, time’s inevitable tick-tick-ticking down to death — a feather-light touch, striking the perfect tone. He’d be terrific headlining a film by Judd Apatow, Spike Lee or Taika Waititi.

Memorable Dialogue: “The lady said, you’re moving at different speeds!” — a mover guy gives Charles some unsolicited relationship advice

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: Remember, you can’t spell “inside” without the letters “d,” “i” and “e.” The Outside Story is a day in the life of Charles, and it’s his most unusual day in a while, because it has a lot of life compared to his typical days, which don’t. The narrative flashes back to fragments of happier memories with Isha, most significantly the one where they met at a party and bonded over their weariness with the noisy and cluttered party scene. Well, Charles overcorrected, and he fell into a funk, dragging Isha with him. So she kissed and did some other stuff with someone else, and of course, Charles runs into that someone else when he’s locked out in his polka-dot socks, and right there in front of him, that someone else’s kissing and other things with Isha are revealed to the someone else’s significant other, who, also right there in front of him, offers forgiveness, which might plant an idea in Charles’ head. It’s a moment of clarity, maybe.

I loved this movie, this light, slyly funny profile of a man in stasis, moldering in the detritus of his partner’s confessed mistake and the passing of people who made the movies he loves. When he’s inside, he’s in control, and when he’s outside, he’s not. But outside is also where life occurs, where a person has space to put one foot in front of the other. Inside, the fox walks by and hisses, PREDICTABILITY REIGNS. Outside, his relationships with people are offbeat, prickly, warm or some combination thereof. Take the parking cop woman, who’s testy at first, but they soon bond over their mutual loathing of the water-balloon delinquents, and she takes him to her favorite food spots, which he enjoys because he always eats the same stuff, and he gets really full and is still locked out and has to poop and therefore interrupts Andre’s threesome by making a lot of really disgusting noise in Andre’s privy.

This isn’t uproarious stuff, but it’s really funny stuff, and Henry carries it all with a sense of flustered and frustrated bewilderment, slowly transitioning his character to a place of acceptance. He gets outside and gets out of his own head and gets back into it in a fresher state. Maybe his Outside Story is a little contrived and too tidy, but any movie that encourages us to seize the day a little more often and get out and breathe the fresh air and commingle with other human beings (insert COVID lament here) and makes us laugh regularly deserves to be seen.

Our Call: STREAM IT. The Outside Story is a slight, but delightful film that may just turn you into a Brian Tyree Henry superfan.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.

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