5 FLIGHTS UP, a film by RICHARD LONCRAINE

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5 FLIGHTS UP, a film by RICHARD LONCRAINE
When, about 12 years ago, I bought the modest townhouse I'm in, I went through what is called a “blind auction”.

For those who don't know what this professional deceit is, I'll explain.

You, the buyer, are given by the agent a very loose range of telephone number/dollars in which the seller is prepared to let the property go at. You don't know what the actual reserve is and nor do you know what any other buyers – if indeed there are any – may have also bid.

So in essence, you have no real idea of the value of the property. The only good news perhaps is that nor does any other potential buyer.

So you put in a bid – Is it too high? Is it too low? – and in my case it turned out just right. So I probably went in too high because of the speed at which I wanted to buy (I needed to move fast). I had seen the place on a Tuesday and by Friday morning I was having my hand shaken by the agent.

I've spent longer buying a book.

The fact the place subsequently was discovered to be a leaky building I avoid thinking about. I am sure the seller – who seemed anxious to get out – had no idea about that. And nor did the real estate agent, heaven forbid I should impugn the fine reputation of a real estate agent who has more letters after his name than friends who have spent a decade at university.

Anyway, some might say the value on my property has gone up, and that may well be true.

But I don't think so.

A house is worth exactly nothing at all . . . unless you are selling it, buying it or capitalising on it.

Only then do you wonder about its actual value.

In part that is one of the threads through 5 Flights Up in which an older couple find those stairs in their old apartment building in now-hip Brooklyn just too much. And so they – for the first time since their marriage when they moved in – have to consider what their house, their home which also contains his art studio, is worth.

In one reading this is a funny and sometimes moving film about that – greed and need collide, sentiment and pragmatism too – but there is also more going on.

flightsRuth (Diane Keaton) and painter Alex (Morgan Freeman) play the couple who learn their home might be worth as much as US$1 million.

Naturally this surprises them, but he is less keen to move than her – his studio has a terrific skyline view – although then those telephone number figures start flying, all delivered with breathless urgency and back-to-back phonecalls after an open home by their realtor, also Ruth's niece. (Cynthia Nixon from Sex and the City who, ironically, in that series reluctantly left Manhattan for Brooklyn).

There are flashbacks when we see the young inter-racial couple struggling but finding their place in what was once a rundown neighbourhood . . . but there are also too many sub-plots, not the least one about their dog Dorothy. The message behind that one is laid on thick.

There's a brittle dinner scene between Alex, Ruth, Alex's art dealer Larry and Larry's business-minded son Jackson (Josh Pais) who is taking over his dad's business . . . and dropping Alex because no one wants portraits anymore.

The film is also about changing times. 

Most interesting in that regard is the parallel story about what the media paint as a potential terrorist on the run. With weary familiarity for anyone who has watched the Fox channel, we see television talking heads response, which is to parlay the unproven into fear-mongering.

Alex's response is the final pivot taking this film to its inevitable conclusion.

5 Flights Up is – when it's not about the hyperactive property market and the parade of unusual wannabe buyers traipsing through – a gentle film about place and happiness, and what the real value of each might be.

Aucklanders might want to take note.

5 Flights Up opens in New Zealand cinemas on June 18.  

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