The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
When all the world was agog over the butter scene between Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in "Last Tango in Paris," it took Art Buchwald to explain the movie. It was not about sex at all, he said, but about what people are willing to do for a rent-controlled apartment in Paris. "Duplex" is about a yuppie couple who eventually get to the point where they are contemplating murder.
Drew Barrymore and Ben Stiller play Nancy and Alex, young professionals fleeing a Manhattan flat "the size of a small child." In Brooklyn they buy a perfect apartment, with three fireplaces and original stained glass windows, on a quiet street; there are even shelves for his collection of first editions. Here he'll be able to finish his second novel, while she commutes to her job as a magazine editor. The apartment is even a duplex, but there's a hitch: The upstairs is occupied by a sweet little old rent-controlled lady who only pays $88 a month.
"She hasn't been feeling too well lately," their real-estate agent (Harvey Fierstein) optimistically informs them. So it's perfect. They'll move in, the sweet little old lady will die, and then they can take over the upstairs and start their family. The problem is that the sweet little old lady is annoying and obnoxious on a truly alarming scale.
Her name is Mrs. Connell, and she's played by the actress Eileen Essel, who is 81, but skips around the apartment like a cheerleader. Maybe they used doubles for some of the movement, but Essel is filled with energy, aggressively cheerful despite their raids on her sanity, and keeps them guessing: she mentions at one point that her husband died in 1963, after they had been married 58 years. Barrymore's eyes almost cross as she tries to do the math.