“Nothing stands in the way of real estate,” remarks aging artist Alex Carver, played by legendary actor Morgan Freeman, in “5 Flights Up,” a film that debuts Friday. Co-starring Academy Award winner Diane Keaton as his retired schoolteacher wife, Ruth, the film depicts a couple’s foray into the New York real estate world when they decide to place their home of over 40 years on the market and search for a new apartment over an action-packed weekend.
Alex and Ruth purchased their apartment in a sketchy but undisclosed part of Brooklyn eons ago, and now the area — as is standard fare in the borough — is hipster central. The couple, bemused by the changes they are witnessing, decides to allow Ruth’s niece, Lily, a desperate real estate agent, perfectly portrayed by Cynthia Nixon, to list their property in order to gauge what the market might bear. They are getting older and have an ailing dog, Dorothy, who can no longer navigate the building’s myriad stairs and when she takes a turn for the worse and has to be rushed into the city for urgent care costing thousands of dollars, they make up their mind to find a new pad in an elevator building. Lily points out that the dog’s decline may foreshadow their own in the upcoming years and that they “can’t stay in this apartment forever.”
As fate would have it, on the eve of their open house, an abandoned rig on the bridge by their home is rumored to be part of a possible terrorist attack, sending the media into a frenzy. Ever the ballsy real estate broker, Lily callously alerts them that in this town, real estate waits for no man — terrorist or not — and that she “sold a loft in Tribeca the day after 9/11.”
As open houses are wont to do, this one attracts a mélange of colorful would-be buyers and lookie-loos who run amok, wreaking havoc. Highlights include laying in the couple’s bed, allowing their children to damage items, and making absurd offers that will only “last only 15 minutes.” Alex and Ruth decide to get out and start apartment hunting on their own in Manhattan before anxiety overtakes them.
They start off by seeing a few depressing clunkers, prompting Alex to say, “Views are for young people who still have things to look at.” But they soon get hypnotized by an Upper East Side dream home that lies in their price range. However, as is common with New York City real estate, nothing is ever smooth and we learn that one’s attachment to one’s home is not as easy as merely packing up boxes and loading them into a moving van.
While there are a few unrealistic things in the movie — their broker allows them to stay in the home during the open house and subsequent showings, they conduct their own home search using newspaper ads instead of the internet and keep running into the same people at every showing they attend — overall, “5 Flights Up” puts the “real” in real estate.
Brooklyn is hot, bidding wars are prevalent, prospective buyers write personal notes to the sellers in hopes of tugging on heartstrings and garnering a leg up on their bidding competition and real estate brokers — relatives or not — lose their minds when their clients look and bid on properties without them. Despite the backdrop of terrorism, with terms like “staging,” “escrow” and “full ask” bandied about, the movie depicts the industry realistically and has a relatable and educational tone.
Even the tedium expressed in the movie — some scenes seemed to drag — wasn’t inaccurate. It does take a long time to go five flights up, after all. And the most realistic spoiler: The broker, whose parting shot is flipping the bird, gets screwed in the end.
While “5 Flights Up” is certainly a movie about real estate — the market and its inhabitants — it is even more so about a romance. It is one about people, what defines a home and everyone’s love of New York City. Amid the chaos and confusion of a rapidly changing world, as we see Dorothy gain a full recovery and our couple who has navigated four decades together remain intact, we are left knowing above all else, There Is No Place like home. Except perhaps your next one.