STREAMING MOVIE REVIEW
It’s always a pleasure to see a talented character actor get a lead role, and “The Outside Story” is a pleasure in other respects as well: A pocket-size charmer arriving this week on demand, it takes place in one sunny afternoon on one bustling Brooklyn block. Star Brian Tyree Henry you know as the rapper Paper Boi on Donald Glover’s “Atlanta,” as the weary ex-con in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” and most recently as the likable conspiracy freak of “Godzilla vs. Kong.” He’s a big fella but he fits this modest human comedy’s dimensions to a T.
Henry plays Charles, a video editor — he cuts “In Memoriam” segments for Turner Classic Movies — who has just broken up with his girlfriend, Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green), after she had a brief dalliance with another woman. Charles is an introvert who likes to hole up in his Park Slope apartment and peer into his laptop; “other people” are not something he really does. So being accidentally locked outside his building (without his shoes, no less) is a mild sort of calamity but a calamity nonetheless.
Writer-director Casimir Nozkowski has great fun coming up with new exasperations for his main character, and Henry has a slow burn to rival old-time masters like Edgar Kennedy. And as “The Outside Story” progresses, Charles starts making connections almost despite himself. The elderly widow next door (Lynda Gravatt) needs help setting up an online dating profile; the extremely pregnant woman down the street (Hannah Bos) asks if he can chalk up the sidewalk to advertise her stoop sale. Getting to the building’s fire escape to try his windows requires that Charles go through the apartment of a neighbor (Michael Cyril Creighton) and interrupt a threesome the man has arranged with a visiting Norwegian couple (they turn out to be quite helpful with relationship advice).
Gradually, Charles widens the ambit of his life to include the end of the block and even the park around the corner. The parking ticket cop (Sunita Mani) introduces him to the joys of an old school Italian sub shop on the main avenue. The little girl in the apartment above him (a delightfully deadpan Olivia Edward) takes him up to her rooftop tent-fort and, later, brings him to tears with an impromptu piano recital. The world expands without Charles even being aware of it, and with it a newfound forgiveness for the foibles and follies of his fellow man (and maybe his ex-girlfriend).
“The Outside Story” ends with some amusing slapstick involving Charles, the girlfriend, and a pair of impatient movers, and it brushes against heavy matters without ever turning heavy. Perhaps there is a touch of wistful wish fulfillment in its vision of an urban community where everyone gets along and the arrival of the police doesn’t send the Black hero into a nervous sweat. (On the other hand, I lived for a decade four blocks from where this movie was shot and you’d better believe Park Slope has an air of fantasy to it.) “The Outside Story” turns Sartre’s “Hell is other people” on its head. It doesn’t go so far as to say heaven is other people, but it does say that Brooklyn is, and that’s close enough.
THE OUTSIDE STORY
Written and directed by Casimir Nozkowski. Starring Brian Tyree Henry. Available on demand. 85 minutes. Unrated (as PG-13: language)