Duplex

2003, Movie, PG-13, 97 mins

Review

DUPLEX
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Whatever director Danny DeVito has against old ladies (remember THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN?), this comedy about a young New York City couple who face off against a sweet but diabolical senior citizen is pretty funny, in a savagely misanthropic sort of way. Frustrated in their search for an affordable Manhattan apartment, novelist Alex Rose (Ben Stiller) and his wife, Nancy (Drew Barrymore), follow their broker (Harvey Fierstein) to Brooklyn, where he promises to show them a place that's to die for. The asking price is a little steeper than they'd had in mind, but Alex and Nancy agree that the duplex apartment, complete with enormous wood-paneled rooms, parquet floors, leaded windows and three fireplaces, is too good a deal to pass up. There is, however, a catch: The apartment comes with a tenant, Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essell), a sweet old Irish lady who's been living upstairs for years; rent-control laws ensure that the upper floor is hers until she moves or dies. No problem, the prospective buyers figure: She's old, the apartment's huge and when she dies the whole place will be theirs — how could they lose? Besides, Alex has only three weeks to finish his book before his publisher drops him, and the quiet will be conducive to work. Quiet, that is, until bedtime, when Mrs. Connelly turns on Hawaii Five-O at top volume and watches TV till dawn. The days aren't much better: Every five minutes, Mrs. Connelly is at the door with a problem. Matters only get worse: an offer to buy Mrs. Connelly out of her lease somehow ends in accusations of sexual misconduct, and Nancy is fired from her magazine job after Mrs. Connelly maces Nancy's boss (Wallace Shawn) during a dinner party. But it's not until the old bat "accidentally" destroys Alex's laptop, whose hard drive contains the only copy of his novel, that the landlords realize Mrs. Connelly must die. Playing straight man isn't really Barrymore's strength, but former Simpson's writer Larry Doyle's script is funny and Stiller is even funnier; he turns even the more juvenile moments in something to laugh at. For all its apparent improbability, the story is based on a real-life incident. In 1965, a French lawyer agreed to pay the rent on a 90-year-old lady's home in exchange for the right to her home after death; he died 22 years later, at the age of 77, while his tenant lived to 122. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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