This British film has some old-fashioned magic going for it, patiently modulating between sentimentality and gloom.
Is Anybody There? stars Michael Caine and Will Milner and is sensitively directed by John Crowley.
It happens that pre-pubescent Edward (Milner of Son of Rambow) is the only child of a couple (David Morrissey and Anne-Marie Duff) who have converted their spacious if mildly eroding abode into an old folks haven.
Edward works to make friends at this place where death is commonplace, and he has an interest in the afterlife, as he often likes to record what's happening in the rooms of frail folks to capture what the sounds of spirits may be like.
The jaded Clarence (well-played by Caine) is a retired sleight-of-hand artist and widower who needs a place to stay. The mischievous Edward tries to reach out to the curmudgeon with little success at first.
Scripter Peter Harness scales the anxiety and curiosity in a deft, wry way, as gradually Edward and (The Amazing!) Clarence help one another out.. Edward gets a new outlook on life from some displays of professional repartee and Clarence gets more clarity in a yearning fueled by grief and guilt.
This finely hewn tale of an unusual lad and an uptight codger of a man pivots well from the misfire of an illusionist to allow one into the notion of not being of sound mind. Caine and Milner are very good together as dementia is interwoven with an innocent, wide-eyed look into the moribund, and the understanding that goes beyond the unexpected recognition.
There's decent backup, especially from Leslie Philips and Rosemary Harris, as zany denizens of the retirement home who bring more lightness around the long-suffering Duff of The Magdalene Sisters while the philandering Morrissey has designs on the maid (Linzey Cocker).
Is Anybody There? is a small, yet appealing film that is conventional and modestly revelatory, going from what can be elementary, regressing, and sometimes fascinating with a beguiling soulfulness.