Casimir Nozkowski’s The Outside Story has one of the most anxiety inducting premises in recent films, or at least, it’s premise that dangles something anxiety inducing. I just saw a few documentaries about crime in humanity but the experience of this film feels…worse. Anyway, in this film, Charles Young (Brian Tyree Henry) just broke up with his girlfriend (Sonequa Martin-Green). He accidentally locks himself out of his apartment, leaving him to the mercy of the people outside his apartment. One of those people is a police officer, Z Slater (Sumita Mani). She finds joy in handing out tickets, parking or otherwise, to anyone in the neighborhood that does anything illegal. This makes my mind go off to many places, especially since I’m internally calling Charles dumb for doing something I’ve done. Another complication here is that Charles is Black and is dealing with cops in a… hipster-y whimsical dramedy?
This is the most bizarre depiction of the Black urban experience in recent years. I had to look on Letterboxd for what I watched for the past two months and nothing matches this. So let’s at least say something nice about this film. And most of those nice things have to do with Henry. He works hard to make viewers believe that he would ever yell at a cop. He’s much better acting out a b plot involving him befriending a girl, Elena (Olivia Edward). With Charles, she finds ways of detoxing from her abusive mother. Maybe it’s the costume choices or his performance itself but there’s something queer about it. This would make a weird Vito Russo gaydar blip but then he’s playing gay in a movie soon. Either way, this film is a good way for Henry to show his comic timing and vulnerability.
Nonetheless, this is a movie about a man who, on a twist of fate, befriends cops and kids and widows who, without knowing it, are helping to cure him from being an introvert. This is a good lesson and all but, speaking as an extrovert here. However, it’s disregarding the idea that introversion is a valid defense mechanism. That defense is specifically valid for Charles because of his Blackness. And I know that people of color who work on problematic media can counter this criticism with ‘that’s on you’. But then it shows the scenes between Charles and Slater. And, spoiler alert, there are two male police officers who think that Charles ‘fits a profile’. These scenes dangle that danger of being Black in America only for the film to eventually disregard those anxieties. It disregards the anxiety that Black and POC people have and that feels irresponsible.
I also normally don’t talk about posters because actors and directors may not have a lot on control over that stuff. But the two posters for The Outside Story has Henry with a serious face. This is strange because he’s shown that he’s capable of expressing layered emotions both in this film and his other work. These posters make the film more serious that it ends up being. And they help dictate the anxiety inducing experience of watching the film. If a studio is selling a film that’s 70% whimsy and 30% serious, at least double down on the promotional side.