Michael Caine adds another feather to a well-feathered cap with his performance in “Is There Anybody There”? Caine stars as ‘The Amazing Clarence’, an aging magician that moves into the retirement home of a poor family. Bill Milner costars as young Edward, an eleven year old boy who despises living in a retirement home and is obsessed with death. So much so, he hides a tape recorder under the beds of the older, sicker people in the hope of capturing their spirit leaving the body. He has convinced himself that an afterlife exists and that he will be the one to get hard evidence. The two strike up a unique bond that is sad and funny at the same time.

The film is set in 1985, so it has a distinctly 80’s look that adds to the comedic aspects of the story. There is an excellent supporting cast, most notably Ann-Marie Duff and David Morrissey. They play Edwards parents, a couple struggling to make a living and keeping a marriage intact under such circumstances. The veteran British actors add a lot of weight to a small film with a young antagonist.

Explaining death to a child is extremely difficult. Edward’s odyssey to understand the meaning of death is silly at first, but much clearer as he sees his dear friend Clarence slipping away. Michael Caine is so good in this regard. His slide into senility establishes a connection with the aged that Edward never had with the people who had passed away in the home. They were just people who died, while Clarence is someone he loves.

It’s important to note that the film is very funny and not macabre at all. It has its sad moments, but they pale to some of the laugh out loud scenes. There’s one particular that’s so outrageous, I can imagine each of the actors laughing hysterically after they read the scene. Kudos to director John Crowley and writer Peter Harness. The writing here is especially good. Their small film is humorous and touching. I think it’s the first great movie of 2009.

Is Anybody There? is out April 17, 2009.

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