"The film’s strong points are definitely in the central relationship"

Richard Loncraine’s newest directorial effort, Ruth & Alex (known in the US as 5 Flights Up), is a sentimental look at the inevitability of change through the passage of time.

Featuring effortless performances from Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton (who is a highlight), the bare bones plot unfortunately never quite lives up to their level, and the film is required to glide along on charm alone.

Ruth & Alex follows the trials of a married couple (Freeman and Keaton) who have decided to move from their Brooklyn home of forty years. The New York City real estate market is portrayed in all its madness as they suffer through open houses and bidding wars, helped, and sometimes hindered, by their manic estate agent Lily (Cynthia Nixon). Eventually, Ruth and Alex must decide whether they really are making the best decision for the rest of their life together.

The film’s strong points are definitely in the central relationship. Freeman and Keaton are fantastic in their roles, even if their characters don’t pose much of a stretch. Freeman is as we know him: a slightly doleful and cynical painter, reluctant to make a change. Keaton - somewhat of a New York icon herself from as far back as Woody Allen’s Annie Hall - is a sweet and optimistic teacher. Whilst the portrayal of the pair is undoubtably sentimental, it is nevertheless a realistic relationship, as their conflicts and agreements play themselves out believably throughout the movie.

Some brilliant, albeit too sparse, flashbacks introduce us to their past. Australian actress Claire van der Boom does a particularly excellent job as a younger Ruth, portraying her vulnerabilities and gentility with some instantly recognisable Keaton flair.

The city of New York, an icon of so many movies, is an important setting here as well. At one point Freeman makes a wry observation of the gentrification of Brooklyn, a real development that pushes their initially cheap flat forty years ago into the sort of apartment that could make them millionaires. This at least separates Ruth & Alex from the standard cliché of romance or comedy set in New York. Whilst it romanticises the city as the home of their relationship, it’s well aware of the illogical nature of staying there. Affection is what keeps them there and that affection feels genuine.

It does fall flat on some notes, however. A voiceover by Freeman appears occasionally, without really lending any depth to the plot. You do wonder whether the director simply couldn’t help himself - anything to emphasise Freeman’s famous deep voice must surely be a winning addition with many film fans! Unfortunately though, this instead only serves to emphasise the uneven nature of the film.

The main plot is also very simple, and fleshed out into a 90-minute film with two extra subplots, neither of which hold the emotional strength that they seemingly wish to. The principal storyline, with the few flashbacks we are privy to, could have made a very effective short film, but instead becomes unnecessarily overdone in order to become feature length.

Ruth & Alex is well-meaning with a genuine heart that boasts some great performances from gifted veteran actors. The flashbacks are effective and it does well to portray an honest, long-lasting marriage. It is sad that the plot doesn’t offer quite enough to match this, even when paired with some ineffective subplots. I feel the film may find itself relegated to an easy Sunday afternoon viewing slot, but many may find the lead actors compelling enough to make a night of it.