Is There Anybody There?



Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- Irish director John Crowley, whose stirring "Boy A" came out of last year's Toronto International Film Festival, returns with "Is There Anybody There?" a pleasant if undemanding portrait of a friendship between an inquisitive 10-year-old and a retired magician.

With masterful Michael Caine on hand to play the part of the curmudgeonly conjurer, any signs of encroaching sentimentality in Peter Harness' autobiographical script are held neatly in check.

The warmly quirky results should ensure there's definitely somebody out there for the film, specifically older audiences, and its universal appeal should help it land theatrical distribution domestically and internationally.

Set in seaside England in the late '80s, the film concerns the less-than-idyllic childhood of young Edward (engagingly played by "Son of Rambow's" Bill Milner), who's definitely not thrilled with the fact that his home happens to double as a hospice for the aged.

As his parents (Anne-Marie Duff and David Morrissey) struggle to keep the family business afloat, Edward pursues his obsession with the paranormal, regularly tape-recording residents who are on their last breath in an effort to determine what happens after death.

Providing a distraction, at first unwelcome, is the arrival of Caine's embittered Clarence, who ultimately joins Edward in his quest to untangle the sweet and not-so-sweet mysteries of life.

Although the film tends to follow a predictable path for the most part, director Crowley has a few tricks up his own sleeve, maintaining a witty edge over the potentially maudlin proceedings.

While Caine and young Milner make for amusing adversaries, it's nice to see Crowley paying respect to his elders by populating the retirement home with a number of familiar faces, including those belonging to Rosemary Harris, Sylvia Syms and longtime "Coronation Street" resident Thelma Barlow.

Production: Big Beach/BBC Films/Heyday Films.
Cast: Michael Caine, Bill Milner, Anne-Marie Duff, David Morrissey.
Director: John Crowley.
Screenwriter: Peter Harness.
Executive producer: David M. Thompson.
Producers: David Heyman, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub.
Director of photography: Rob Hardy.
Production designer: Kave Quinn.
Music: Joby Talbot.
Costume designer: Jane Petrie.
Editor: Trevor Waite.
Sales agents: Cinetic Media/Odyssey Entertainment.
No rating, 92 minutes.