Review by Sean Boelman
Writer-director Casimir Nozkowski is lucky to have made his feature debut with a star-studded comedy like The Outside Story, but one can’t help but feel like something is missing. Charming but overly theatrical in nature, there are some really strong aspects to Nozkowski’s film, but it too often feels like it should have been more.
The movie follows an introverted film editor still reeling over a recent break-up as he accidentally locks himself out of his building and must learn to come out of his shell. It’s a simple and frequently relatable premise, but Nozkowski’s script too often leans into melodrama for this authenticity to come through.
There is an episodic structure to the script as the protagonist weaves through situations and interacts with the quirky group of supporting characters that Nozkowski designed. A few of these moments are pretty memorable, like one in which the protagonist interacts with an overzealous traffic cop, but the movie often moves on before it allows itself to reach a satisfying level of depth.
Some of these segments even feature some interesting ideas, but they are rarely fully developed. Nozkowski’s story shows a lot of potential to deliver commentary on some important issues like systematic racism exhibited by the police or the way in which men tend to define their relationships by standards of toxic masculinity, but more often than not, it misses the mark.
Much of the issue here boils down to the fact that the protagonist has too many arcs over the course of the film for any of them to be well-rounded. It would have been nice had Nozkowski stuck to the two main arcs with one or two subplots instead of introducing another through-line each time a new character is introduced.
The movie’s execution also doesn’t help to remediate the stagey feel of the dialogue and plot. Much of the film looks oversaturated and there is very little expressiveness in the cinematography. Given that Nozkowski has a background predominantly in documentaries, it makes sense that the movie is so stylistically matter-of-fact.
That said, the wonderful cast does manage to bring a great deal of emotion out of the film. Bryan Tyree Henry is a phenomenal actor, and he is the main factor that keeps this movie above water. He brings so much humanity to a character that is written in a way that is pretty impersonal. Highlights in the supporting cast include Sunita Mani and Michael Cyril Creighton.
The Outside Story doesn’t live up to its enormous potential despite the efforts of a very talented cast. It’s worth watching to see Bryan Tyree Henry flourish in the lead role, but a better starring vehicle is going to come along for him.
The Outside Story screens at the Enzian Theater as part of the Florida Film Festival on August 16 at 12:45pm. It is also available virtually (geoblocked to Florida) for the entirety of the festival, which runs August 7-20 in Orlando, FL.