Written and Directed by Casimir Nozkowski, The Outside Story attempts to tell a brief coming-of-age story framed in a bottle film but plays it relatively safe. There isn’t much laughter to be had in this, but if you’re looking for a sweet and unassuming flick to keep on in the background while you’re heating day-old pasta, then this is it.
In his first leading role, Charles, played by Brian Tyree Henry, is a shut-in video editor with a broken heart. He just broke up with his girlfriend Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green), although he continually thinks of her and stresses meeting a work deadline. Casimir Nozkowski does an excellent job of showing us how Charles has been dealing with the breakup. There are takeout boxes strewn about the kitchen counter, dirty dishes unattended, boxes filled to the brim of Isha’s things, and photographs depicting a once-fulfilled couple. Charles has not let go yet; he still has a picture of her set as his computer background as he unenthusiastically swipes on a dating app.
The movie doesn’t pick up until Charles’s food arrives, and we get an awkward interaction between him and the delivery person who berates Charles for never leaving a tip. Charles apologizes and blames his breakup for his apparent cheapness, takes his food upstairs to his apartment, and realizes he has some spare dollars to tip. So he runs back out in search of the delivery guy without realizing he just left without his apartment keys. The shut-in is now locked outside his apartment, and thus The Outside Story takes flight. Now equipped with nothing but his phone, the clothes on his back, and a pair of polka-dot socks, he is forced to open his eyes and take in the world happening around his pathetic, sad little circle of misery.
A better title for The Outside Story would have been ‘The Miscellaneous Misadventures of Brian Tyree Henry’ and be 45 minutes shorter. Not much happens in this. Even Brian Tyree Henry’s charm and penchant for comedic timing aren’t enough to uphold this almost banal and by-the-numbers comedy-drama. As he desperately attempts to gain access to his apartment, Charles meets a cast of characters one might find on an amateur stage play.
From the heavily pregnant lady who needs help attracting bystanders to her stoop sale to the poor cute little girl who has an abusive mother who doesn’t appreciate her piano-playing ability. There is also a persistent cop, Officer Slater (Sunita Mani), who just happens to keep popping up at all-too-convenient times to catch Charles doing something unsavory like scaling a fire escape or driving without a license. Oh, and by the way, she may or may not be a love interest, which utterly confused me once the third act kicked in as I’m not sure what Charles even wants anymore.
The Outside Story tries to deal with these characters in vignette-style arcs, but nothing ever feels purposeful or cohesive; instead, the film has a malaise to it, rendering these side characters pretty dull and uninteresting. In one scene, Charles — after befriending 75-year old neighbor Sara — helps her start online dating, and the punchline goes nowhere. Every time The Outside Story confronts the possibility of a joke, it flounders in an awkward and unfunny way. Another scene has Charles rushing into his neighbor’s apartment to use the restroom, and we are treated to an uninspired reaction-shot gag with his neighbor and his pair of scantily-clad swingers as they hear the moaning from the living room. It feels forced, and many of the would-be humorous scenes fall flat; you can see the outcome coming a mile away with almost every set-up.
One of the most bizarre and tonally puzzling scenes happens in the climax where Charles is pleading and forcibly begging his ex-girlfriend to stay and not take her belongings. It comes off as outright creepy and highly out of character, to the point where I was even thinking, why doesn’t she call 911? It is a genuinely odd scene, and I’m not sure if it is meant to be funny, but then again, this is something I shouldn’t be confused about in the first place.
The Outside Story will be available on Digital and On Demand on April 30th, 2021.
The Outside Story
Despite The Outside Story’s aimless nature, some might enjoy Casimir Nozkowski’s quiet and snoozy direction; it just isn’t the lead role debut Brian Tyree Henry deserves. If you’re craving something light, genuinely sweet, and short, this film might be worth 85 minutes of your time; otherwise, steer clear and anticipate the highly talented Brian Tyree Henry’s subsequent big-screen efforts