Everyone needs a push sometimes, and sometimes that push is just a little bit harder than expected. ”The Outside Story” follows a day in the life of Charles — played by Brian Tyree Henry — who is fresh out of a relationship with his ex-girlfriend Isha, portrayed by Sonequa Martin-Green. A physical and emotional hermit, Charles has confined himself to the apartment, and except for his friend Amy — played by Rebecca Naomi Jones — Charles has guarded himself against any interaction. Alone and focused on his work — the depressing task of making in-memoriam videos for living stars — Charles seems to have a bleak existence. It isn’t until a food mishap that the movie is kicked into gear, and Charles is locked out of his apartment, left barefoot and exposed to the world.
The film revolves around three main themes that correspond with the personal development of Charles in the movie. While there isn’t much nuance to the film, it does a fine job of reminding audiences that life is too short to be bound to oneself.
The first of these three themes, community, is hit square on the nose as the audience discovers that Charles knows no one in his apartment building nor his neighborhood. His girlfriend did the job of making sure people knew them. Being locked out of his apartment, Charles is forced to talk to essential strangers and ask for help. While at times it is hard to look at Charles interacting with people who should not be strangers to him, it is endearing to see this hermit of a man come out of his shell.
Going hand-in-hand with discovering his community, Charles also faces the second theme of the movie — exploration. Director and writer Casimir Nozkowski makes it clear that Charles is not the most open of souls. He eats from the same restaurant and never wants to go out. As Charles is forced out into the world, he makes some unlikely friends who show him the world he’s neglected to go out into. In a sense, the movie does not work too well in trying to show Charles exploring his small burough. Charles is limited in his exploration as he doesn’t wander into many new environments during this time. However, one could argue that meeting new people might also be considered an exploration of a different kind.
Obviously with the end of all relationships there comes a need for closure, but “The Outside Story” sees Charles asking whether he wants closure or whether he wants the end of his relationship with Isha. This brings audiences to the final theme — forgiveness. “The Outside Story” also includes the perspective of the past in which the audience sees the development of the relationship between Charles and Isha. While the audience can make up their mind as to whether or not Isha’s betrayal warranted a breakup, the members of Charles’ community believe she deserves a second chance.
Henry, who portrays Charles, is well equipped. He does struggle at the beginning to capture the full neuroticism of Charles. Henry is stiff in the portrayal of character, but eventually comes into his own. Henry proves to be a charismatic leading man in this role — a deviation from the gruff characters he usually plays, such as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles in Atlanta. Martin-Green, who plays ex-girlfriend Isha, is all-too-cool. She is commanding and forthright in the role of Isha. Martin-Green is under-utilized for the first half of the film — as she gets screen time she convincingly makes the audience wonder whether or not she wants Charles to take her back.
Shot in 16 days, “The Outside Story” was inspired by the experiences of director and writer Nozkowski. In a pre-recorded discussion for the Virginia Film Festival with Program Manager Chandler Ferrebee, Nozkowski describes how his father’s advice inspired him to create Charles’ need for exploration.
“My dad would say ‘when you’re kinda doing one thing and comfortable doing one thing, you should do the opposite,’” Nozkowski said.
He describes the film as a comedy-ensemble piece due to the host of strange characters Charles meets during his day locked out. This film is quite funny in terms of how these interpersonal relationships play out. Without exposing too much, Charles ends up spilling his heart to his neighbor and company, who desperately wants to begin their threesome, while playing with the footholes of a sex swing. Oddly enough, it is not the most absurd thing in the movie.
“The Outside Story” leaves more substance to be desired, but at its core, this film is a contemplative piece about the power of relationships.