Not every heartbreak comedy has to be wacky and over the top. Sometimes, it’s okay to play it low key and focus on character. Taking on a rare lead role, Brian Tyree Henry (Godzilla vs. Kong, FX’s Atlanta) plays Charles Young, a man who has just broken up with his long-time girlfriend Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green from Star Trek: Discovery) after she confessed to and apologized for cheating on him. Not being the forgiving type, Charles throws her out, but as we learn during the course of the film, their relationship had grown a bit stagnant in the months leading up to the break-up. He liked staying in with her, and she liked going out and being social, so perhaps she was halfway out the door before he ever kicked her out.
Charles is a former documentary filmmaker (as is writer/director Casimir Nozkowksi), who now edits tribute videos to actors and directors before they die for a TCM-like cable channel, so that the channel has them ready for their inevitable passing. He has just finished up one for an actor on the verge of death and is ready to send it into his employer when he is accidentally locked out of his apartment and is stuck outside in his socks until someone with his keys arrives.
The entirety of The Outside Story takes place over only a couple of hours on a single block in Brooklyn, but in that time Charles meets some of his neighbors, both in the building and next door—people Isha already knew but ones he’s just meeting for the first time, informing everyone that she’s moving out. He also becomes friendly with a local traffic cop (Sunita Mani, GLOW) who is writing parking tickets on the block and seems like a possible rebound dating option should Charles feel up to going out again. Other neighborly discoveries include upstairs neighbor and young piano prodigy Elena (Olivia Edward, Better Things); sex-positive, top-floor resident Andre (Michael Cyril Creighton); and Sara (Lynda Gravatt), an older widow who lives in the building next door and is interested in dating again.
There’s nothing earth-shattering about The Outside Story, which doesn’t have a great deal of probing insight into the dating world, relationships, or the role of jealousy in the world today. But these actors are so ridiculously likable that it’s an easy film to slip into and just let it take you through Charles’ mildly inconvenient day. What the film does get right is the idea of embracing the community around you, whether that’s about getting to know those nearby or finding the secret spots around the neighborhood where the food is great, the company is friendly, and the world can be contemplated without much in the way of consequences.
Tyree Henry shows us a side of himself that combines a seemingly easy-going personality with one that is riddled with anxieties about the world around him. He’s at risk of destroying his own life because of insecurities about himself in his relationship. Isha never wanted to break up, but his doing so feels more like a preventative measure than anything based on actual jealousy. Certainly, the film could have dug deeper into most of these characters, but I’m not sure it would have made us enjoy their company any more than we already do. There are no bad guys here (although many resent the officer for all of her tickets), and Charles (and we) come out the other side of this day-long adventure a better person for having suffered through it. I can think of worse ways to feel after watching a movie.
The film is now available via VOD.
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