The Man Upstairs


by George Wolf

“Who hasn’t had the impulse to put their life on hold for a moment…just vanish completely?”

Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) gives in to that impulse, and his moment of resignation becomes months in a self-imposed exile, wallowing in self-pity and watching his family from an attic window.

Sure, Howard has a nice job, beautiful family and sweet home in suburban New York, but he’s been lulled into a stupor by the whole domestic routine. After yet another trying day, Howard ventures up to the attic above his separate garage…and decides to stay there.

Writer/director Robin Swicord adapts E.L. Doctorow’s short story with a workmanlike precision, dutifully providing all the building blocks for this high-concept parable, but never finding the depth or profundity she seeks.

Cranston, here’s a shocker, is fantastic, digging commendably deep in a search for the humanity his character badly needs. Howard has some first-world problems, as he labels suburbia a place people can feel “protected from what’s wild,” but can’t challenge his privilege with anything more dire than dumpster diving or poor hygiene. Howard is far from likable, and though Cranston is all in, finding a reason to root for his quest is tough sledding indeed.

As he spies on his wife (Jennifer Garner) and two daughters, Howard fancies himself the veritable wise old hermit, observing the folly of modern life and dispatching simple truths. It’s well-meaning, but these truths are of the standard greeting card variety, rendered even less impactful from the film’s inherent need to tell (through voiceover narration or talking-to-himself musings) instead of show.

At times, Wakefield┬áhas the feel of a one-man show. With Cranston, the man makes it worth watching, even when the show can’t quite keep up.





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