Photo: ‘The Outside Story’/Samuel Goldwyn Films
With its initial world premiere in August 2020, but not ultimately released until March 30, 2021, ‘The Outside Story’ is a love letter to getting out of your comfort zone, while not-so-delicately romanticizing polyamory and blind forgiveness. Starring Brian Tyree Henry from Emmy award-winning ‘Atlanta’ and Oscar-winning ‘Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse,’ this story follows Charles, a video editor who has become a little too comfortable at home.
Always opting for food delivery and spending the night in, Charles’ girlfriend, Isha, played by Sonequa Martin-Green (‘The Walking Dead,’ ‘Star Trek: Discovery) becomes seemingly bored and resentful and winds up kissing another woman. After she reveals this to him of her own volition, Charles decides to break up with her. His path of understanding his relationship and where things went wrong is driven by the cast of characters he meets on his very block in Brooklyn, New York over the span of one long day.
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Synopsis: Stepping Outside With No Shoes On
After habitually ordering Chinese food delivery, Charles steps out of his apartment to pick up his meal only for a few seconds, leaving his shoes in his apartment. Following an altercation with the delivery man about his lackluster tip, Charles realizes he, unfortunately, left his keys inside; he is locked out. In a series of awkward interactions with neighbors and the local meter maid, Charles must adapt to being out of his home and on the streets, and finally meeting the people who have been around him, but who he has never noticed, for the past three years. Most of Charles’ absurd encounters are with a polyamorous throuple led by his upstairs neighbor Andre, and his in-town Norwiegen guests, Sylvia and Soren.
Charles also ends up befriending a local cop, Officer Slater, who is hated by the neighborhood for her incessant parking ticketing. He also becomes acquainted with his other upstairs neighbor’s daughter, Elena, his next-door neighbor Sara, a recent widow, and his other neighbor Paige, who is over nine months pregnant and hosting a stoop sale. During this series of unfortunate events, Charles is forced to make new friends and confronts his past, trying to come to terms with his relationship and his thought process behind jealousy, cheating, and forgiveness.
Charle’s arc of stepping out of his comfort zone, outside of his home where he felt most at peace, showed him that sometimes things get worse before they get better. At first, Charles is stressed about work and his boss who needed him to finish a deadline, he needs to get back inside. His only friend who could possibly help who may have a spare key, ends up bringing his pet cat who Charles is allergic to, and of course, the keys do not work. To make matters worse, he gets a parking ticket trying to help his ex-girlfriend move her car, and, once again, he could not, for the life of him, find a way back into his home.
As his day goes on, and he accepts that he is stuck, locked out with no way back inside, he capitulates to embrace those around him. He walks around the city and tries new food around the neighborhood, gets into a water balloon fight, and at the end of his excursion, he gains new perspectives and sees the beauty of his Brooklyn neighborhood from all new angles.
‘The Outside Story’ – The Chemistry and Complexity of Charles and Isha
Throughout the entire movie, it seemed like we were set up to dislike Isha, Charles’ ex-girlfriend. Besides Charles himself, getting him into his situation and being his own roadblock, Isha was perceptively our antagonist. This is shown to us in many ways. Firstly, when she admits to Charles that she cheated, in an extremely nonchalant and belittling manner, she gets upset with him for naturally reacting heavily, telling him it was just a mistake and to calm down. Then, when Charles agrees to move her car to prove that he really is a good man and worth her love, she wasn’t even thankful for it. I, for one, did not think I was supposed to like Isha. Yet, this character-building felt null and void after each interaction Charles had with the people he met, because they seemed to lead him closer and closer to getting back with her, always defending Isha and telling Charles why the breakup was his fault, and his job to fix.
With that point made, the two did have real chemistry. The feelings and love that Charles had for Isha were made very clear, especially in the flashbacks of when they first met. The only times I wanted to like Isha are when I saw or heard about her through Charles’ eyes. But, she betrayed him, she cheated on him, and broke the seal of their monogamy. Charles is a monogamous person: he is visually uncomfortable by his neighbors’ polyamory, he questions why his widow neighbor, Sara, thinks that jealousy is important for relationships; bluntly, he is, as he puts it, a square. In other words, he is old-fashioned. Charles, by stepping out of his house, is challenged by the ideology of openness in sex and relationships.
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Victim Blaming and Questioning the Meaning of Healthy Relationships
Between all of Charles’ interactions and adventures with those on his block, a common question seemed to arise; the question of jealousy. In one scene, Charles comes across the woman with whom his ex-girlfriend cheated, and spills to her girlfriend about what happened. Assuming that this would be a proper comeuppance for destroying his relationship, Charles is excited for the inevitable blow-up. Rather, her partner admits that she cheated as well. Instead of fighting, they both immediately forgive each other. Charles, flabbergasted, wants to see a fight and he goes so far as to tell them why they should be arguing. But they don’t, and they tell him that just because Isha cheated does not mean the relationship has to be over, and that maybe he should look inward and ask himself why she cheated.
This message is echoed by his neighbor Sara, who, when asked if she thought if jealousy was healthy for a relationship, gave a resounding yes. She said, “I think it’s good to have a little fire burning… I always liked driving Vinny nuts, and when he made me nuts, I thought, this means I love you.” To me, this seems incredibly toxic and unhealthy. I understand that the movie wanted it to feel sweet and genuine, but intentionally stressing someone out to test their love for you is wrong in my opinion. In another instance, Charles asked the polyamorous relationship upstairs how they do not get jealous in their love triangle.
Translating for her husband, Sylvia responds, “It is easy, he does not because life is short… He calls jealousy poison, and it steals your life force.” Andre then asks if Charles still has feelings for Isha, and when he says yes, Andre tells him to go get her; but he can’t. He says, “I take her back in my mind, and then I picture her with other people, and I just freak out. I just get so mad.” But then, Sylvia pushes him further, asking him to get in Isha’s mind and think about why she would cheat on him. Again, this seems damaging to me, like they are victim-blaming. Yes, Charles was in a rut and did not like to go outside or try new things, but that is no excuse to cheat. Asking him to take the blame and telling him to run back to her invalidates and belittles the emotions we’ve seen him try to manage and understand so far through the movie.
Everything but the Story: What I Loved and What I Didn’t
I absolutely loved the representation in this film. The celebration of Black culture and New York culture was a breath of fresh air to what is usually a cookie-cutter, white-washed love story. Charles was an authentic, non-stereotypical Black man who went through the same emotions and everyday experiences as any other person would. Although, his race, and the rooted oppression that comes along with it were not ignored.
When Charles climbs onto the fire escape to try to get back into his apartment, he is confronted by a police officer who assumes he is breaking in, and ultimately needs to have his white neighbor vouch that he lives in the building. Later in the film, two more police officers try to arrest him as he matches the description of someone who was robbing different homes around the block, and even when all of his new friends stand up for him, the cops still want to bring him in. The relationship between police officers and the black community was not the only hot topic that was addressed.
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The simple choice to avoid sexual labels in this film was refreshing. Isha cheated on Charles with a woman, and that woman’s girlfriend cheated on her with a man. These choices are never questioned, or thought to be out of the ordinary. If anything, this movie shows a diversity of the concept of sexuality in its many forms and the lack of need for it to be defined. Unfortunately, these progressive choices did not make up for the fact that the movie felt half-baked to me. It was one part whole-hearted character study, one part raunchy sex comedy, and one part romantic drama.
Furthermore, although the camera work and the editing seemed very simplistic and plain, the use of costume design was inspired, in one particular way. One of the first things we see on Charles, and an integral part of his outfit with regards to his character is his polka-dot socks. He leaves the house with no shoes on and walks around the city in just those socks. The cinematographer shows how important these are, framing them in many closeups. The story even goes as far as to use the socks in the police description of the person allegedly breaking into buildings; all they say is that it was someone wearing polka dot socks, just like Charles is.
It is not a coincidence that in the flashbacks of Charles and Isha’s meeting, Isha is wearing a polka dot sweater. In fact, the first words he speaks to her are as a compliment about the said sweater. This is a connection they have, the last thing keeping them together in Charles’ mind. At the beginning of Charles’ experience being locked out, he is stressed and heartbroken; his socks are all he has to protect him. And, almost like a heart being patched up, when his Jordan shoes arrive and he slips them on, he is then protected from the cold ground, and from there he starts a journey of embracing his situation, leaving behind the stress of the break-up, and working on understanding himself and his past relationship; working on healing.
In Summation of my Thoughts
‘The Outside Story’ was carried by the complete talent of Brian Tyree Henry, who conveyed an attention-grabbing amount of anxiety, humor, and purpose behind each decision he made as Charles. I felt for him and I rooted for him, which made the way that everyone villainized him feel unwarranted and made me angry on behalf of him. His supporting cast brought some funny one-liners and even some heart, but mostly came off as corny and one-dimensional, which took away from the performance Henry gave. Although, the message I took from the movie was clearly the aspect with which I had the most trouble.
All types of relationships have the propensity to be healthy, no one way is the right way. I am happy that different methods of sexuality and relationships are being presented and praised. In the context of Charles’ situation though, the preaching of the acceptance of cheating in the name of polyamory came off as a cheap fix. I completely understand that a movie can be one person’s viewpoint expressed in 90 minutes, and this was clearly the viewpoint of writer and director Casimir Nozkowski.
Although, perhaps, to let go of my judgement, this was simply Nozkowski’s way of telling his audience not to be afraid to look inward and to be open to other ideologies that are not your own. Once Charles left his apartment he was met with perspectives on relationships and life that did not align with his. That can be scary, and it was at first for Charles, but it is important to remain open and take them into consideration. Just because someone sees something a different way, does not mean their way is wrong. And who knows, even on your own neighborhood block, there can be hundreds of different ways of seeing the world. So do yourself a favor, and step outside.
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Samuel James Parven is an avid fan of all things entertainment and pop culture, who shines in reviewing the hidden gems of Hollywood. Samuel is fascinated by the direct correlation between media and culture. If art imitates life and vice versa, Samuel focuses on highlighting the ways that the entertainment industry and their consumers alike can improve our interpersonal world through the content with which we engage. With the aligned values of Hollywood Insider to focus on positivity and growth, Samuel is a passionate writer hoping to pen his takes on how to add more substance and inclusivity to the industry we love so much.