There is something unspeakably delightful about seeing Diane Keaton immersed in conversation with her partner, strolling nonchalantly down a New York street. You’re taken back to days of Annie Hall, Manhattan or Play it Again, Sam – classic romantic tales that managed to find the most beautiful balance between comedy and pathos. However sadly in this instance, it seeks in only reminding you that such films are consigned to Hollywood history, as Ruth & Alex, for all of it’s congenial elements, is not quite Woody Allen.
Keaton plays Ruth, who alongside her husband of forty years, Alex (Morgan Freeman), are reluctantly putting their apartment on the market, as it’s five flights of stairs up, and not accommodating to people of their age. With Ruth’s niece (Cynthia Nixon) left in charge of selling the property, the couple are distracted when their dog is rushed to the vet for an emergency operation, not really allowing them to pause, and reflect on what it would mean to move out of the place they very fondly call home.
Richard Loncraine’s understated drama thrives in its simplistic narrative, not attempting to do too much or heading down too many tangents, instead we focus solely on the characters, and the finished product is all the better for it. Not much technically happens, it’s just a window into their lives, and how one thing – in this instance, leaving a property behind – can trigger a range of emotions, and those which we can relate to. It’s a shame, however, that we have the addition of superfluous flashbacks to Ruth and Alex’s youth, which are too mawkish in their execution. We simply don’t need to see them, and through Freeman and Keaton we can figure their past our ourselves, we don’t need to be spoon fed it. It also means we see less of Freeman, and that’s never a good thing – as the actor proves that, in spite of his age, he carries such a screen presence and distinct affability, and it’s just a joy to see him in a rare, leading role, following a string of cameos in recent years.
To ensure we have a full house, even their pet dog turns in an impressive display, with the character working as a metaphor for our couple – it’s elderly and not what he used to be – but there’s life in him yet. This sets the tone for a sweet, tender film with an enchanting atmosphere. Undemanding and requiring very little of its audience, though Ruth & Alex may be somewhat forgettable on the whole, it certainly makes for an enjoyable, entertaining watch at the time.