Writer/director Casimir Nozkowski makes his feature film debut with the charming independent film “The Outside Story,” streaming on major digital platforms from Samuel Goldwyn Films Friday, April 30. Nozkowski taps into the isolated life of Charles (Brian Tyree Henry) who, through a series of unfortunate (or perhaps fortunate) events, finds himself discovering a whole new world. On the surface, it’s an engagingly humorous story, but beneath lies a transformative one that feels humbly profound.
Charles has just broken up with his long-time live-in girlfriend, Isha (Sonequa Martin-Green) due to her admitted one-time infidelity. Angry, heartbroken, and struggling to meet a deadline of creating a not-quite-yet post-mortem video montage of a famous actor, (I have always pondered how television outlets had these so quickly!) Charles’ day of disasters begins with a simple food delivery. Giving no tip to the delivery person, he is reminded of his ex-girlfriend’s generosity. Not to be shamed, Charles finds a few bucks and chases after the delivery man only to find himself locked out. And now his journey in bright colored polka dotted socks has begun.
Over the course of this day as Charles attempts to regain entry into his apartment, he begrudgingly meets his neighbors and explores his neighborhood. The emotional treasures he finds are more valuable than he realizes, particularly as he is constantly hounded by his editor to meet his deadline. Charles, an apparent loner and hermit, finds the sun’s rays and the people inhabiting his world, all who were previously invisible to him. Reluctantly, he dips his toes into this new pool and before he knows it, he’s swimming happily. Of course, there are plenty of tidal waves that Charles experiences such as the lurking parking meter maid (Sunita Mani) or being confronted with what is happening behind closed doors of one precocious young neighbor, but that is what helps Charles grow. And with this growth, we are invested in this character. Nozkowski’s writing brings us into the story and connects us with Charles as we walk in his shoes—or should I say his vibrant socks.
Henry is perfectly cast as the pitiful jilted boyfriend, portraying Charles with grace and ease. His laid back manner creates wonderfully comedic situations that never feel contrived or forced, his reactions making us chuckle in empathy and even laugh aloud. And while Charles is the focal point of the story and he changes dramatically throughout the course of the story, Henry lets his character develop naturally, finding just the right notes to hit to bring us a realistic man who could easily be our next door neighbor.
Nozkowski uses the rest of his cast to provide the comedic elements as he focuses on the main character’s reactions and situations. From the upstairs neighbor’s unexpected recreational activities and the dreaded meter maid who just might be more than appearances would suggest, to the little rascals throwing water balloons, Charles finds that it’s a crazy world outside of his four walls. Nozkowski then delicately brings us back in time, using flashbacks, to allow the viewer to better understand what happened between Isha and Charles. This approach to story telling gives us the full picture which inherently brings us closer to Charles and to the need to know how this story is going to end.
“The Outside Story” comes to our home screens at just the right time. We’ve been cooped up for more than a year and with the promise of Covid coming to a close in the near future, it’s time to unlock our doors and venture outside to reconnect with neighbors and perhaps discover new ones. This film reminds us of the importance of community and conversation to hear ideas that are in opposition to our own and grow from it all. Charles may have been locked out, but perhaps previously he was actually locked in. Finding his proverbial key to unlock his world and better understand himself is what makes this a memorable and relatable comedic gem.