"A Long Way Down," adapted from a 2005 novel written by "High Fidelity" and "About A Boy" author Nick Hornby, features probably one of the darkest meet-cutes in recent memory. Four strangers all climb to the top of a tall building in London on a bitter New Year’s Eve with the same mission in mind: to step over the edge and fall to their death. A disgraced television personality named Martin Sharp (Pierce Brosnan) is the first to attempt – with a ladder and one last cigar in tow – after losing his job, his reputation and his family following a scandalous fling with an underage girl.
Before he can step off, though, he ends up meeting the three others, all of whom are desperate to make a grand exit for different reasons. Maureen (Toni Colette), a single mother of a devastatingly disabled son; Jess (Imogen Poots), an eccentric, pill-popping daughter of a politician (Sam Neill); and J.J. (Aaron Paul), a failed American musician turned pizza delivery driver who tries to lighten everyone else’s mood that he’s dying of brain cancer; all think their problems are too much to bare, thus attempting to do what they think is best for them.
Yes, all of this actually happens in the first few minutes of a film that ends up trying very hard to be a comedy. It's quite the high-wire attempt, but the film instead itself trips over itself, splattering onto the pavement below.
The four don’t go through with their plans, of course, because how can the movie possibly continue after the four central characters die in the first few minutes? Instead, after meeting during the darkest time in each of their lives, they all calm down and eventually become friends. At first, Sharp doesn’t want anything to do with these strangers ever again, but his good will, or something like that, gets the best of him and he offers them a ride home.
It’s all too sweet to watch them banter as they hang out, as they’re all a mix of polar opposite personalities. Not too long after meeting, they all make a pact to not go through with their suicidal plans at least until Valentine’s Day, signing their names as part of the pact on the back of Maureen’s suicide note.
For the six weeks that follow, they form a surrogate family that serves much more as a support group than anything else. When the tabloid press gets hold of their story, which somehow involves a guardian angel that looks like Matt Damon, they become mini-media sensations.
There is a lot to dislike about "A Long Way Down," directed by Pascal Chaumeil – who also directed 2010’s French-language rom-com "Heartbreaker" – from a mess of a screenplay written by Jack Thorne.
As you would accurately guess, the script gives the characters reasons to live beyond their attention from the media in the forms of bonding opportunities and a random vacation. Thorne, however, excludes elements where he sees fit, ignoring certain plot elements that are brought up but then thrown out by the film’s end. For example, Jess is haunted by her older sister’s mysterious disappearance. It’s brought up on more than one occasion, but it eventually becomes an undeveloped afterthought.
Undeveloped is actually the adjective I’d use to describe the four protagonists. Each of them get their time to narrate a chunk of the story, a unique narrative feature, but it only led to a reliance on voiceover narration. If these voiceovers were supposed to provide a little extra insight into their lives or their reasoning for wanting to end their lives or not doing so for that matter, they failed. Hard.
The cast works with what they’re given … for the most part. The usually impressive Poots is the only one who really turns an extra notch or two higher to portray the manic depressive Jess, who was actually the most interesting out of the four. Collette is also good as Maureen, really showing the character as hopeless as she describes herself more than once.
Meanwhile, Paul moves through the film as if he’s on autopilot, not really shining until a climatic moment near the end. Brosnan gives an average performance as Martin, coming off slimy, unlikeable and flat. I feel bad for the actors because they’re definitely talented, but here, some couldn’t even make a bold effort to make the film at least a bit more tolerable.
Even with the dark themes of suicide and depression lingering throughout, the film tries very hard to be a comedy, yet doesn’t manage to elicit a single laugh.
The problem is that Chaumeil and Thorne have a troubling time trying to find a balance of tone. The overall rhythm of the comedy was a bit off, and the themes of suicide and depression weren’t pushed far enough to make any long-lasting effect on the narrative or its characters. The production value of the film and the overall visual style screamed, "romantic comedy" when it should’ve been more along the lines of "dark, depressive drama-com." Honestly, the whole film seemed like an artificial and contrived romantic comedy, so much that it's nausea-inducing.
Although I’d never applaud suicide, but for the film’s sake, it would have been bold for Chaumeil and Thorne to go far enough to actually have one of the characters go through with their plan, because only then would the movie stir real conversation about how suicide and depression can be destructive, rather than a nearly-exploitive plot device. Much to the film’s failure, though, Chaumeil is far too content on being cutesy rather than ballsy.
As it stands now, "A Long Way Down" is a film that should’ve been insightful and moving. To our great misfortune, however, it was savaged by a screenplay that should be thrown into a fire and direction that’s as laughably bad as the direction of a below average community theatre production.
"A Long Way Down" is currently playing on iTunes, VOD (check your cable provider), and Amazon.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Colton Dunham
Published Nov. 13, 2014
UW-Milwaukee's Klotsche Center has banned sleeveless shirts because toned college students wearing them intimidate students who are new to college fitness.
Published Nov. 7, 2014
For fans of anything popular culture -- from comics, movies, games, television and celebrities -- Awesome Con is a place to embrace the potpourri of geeky awesomeness. The convention, which touts itself as an up-and-coming Comic-Con of sorts, was set to take place in Milwaukee at the Wisconsin Center from Nov. 21-23, but faced with a set of logistical challenges, the con was cancelled this past Wednesday, just weeks away.
Published Nov. 6, 2014
I've accepted the fact that people love to hate Lena Dunham. Now, to add to this ever-so-growing list of relentlessness, you might've read this online in the past couple of days: Dunham is a sex offender. Yes, rub those eyes and read again. But, come on, is she really? Nope.
Published Nov. 3, 2014
Last spring, Martin Kaszubowski and Scott Cary graduated from UW-Milwaukee's highly regarded film program with a load of ambition. They've made the leap that most students don't dare to take immediately following college: co-writing, directing and producing a feature-length film with little to no money to back them up. Recently, they launched a Kickstarter campaign for the film, titled "Christopher Darling."
Published Oct. 31, 2014
After many rewrites, "The Surface" moved into production last summer that was made up almost entirely of a Milwaukee-based crew and a cast who have certainly seen better gigs. The film, as it turns out, is one that should sink because of its absurdly inept screenplay that could've used a few more rewrites (and by rewrites, I don't mean a few kinks to sort out. I mean an entirely new screenplay altogether).
Published Oct. 27, 2014
Milwaukee's Altered Five is a quintet that knows a few a things about the blues -- a genre that, despite its name, often makes people feel good thanks to its soulful vibe. Over the last year, the band often put a little groove to its step when treading familiar turf with its own soulful, lyrical twist, especially on its latest album, "Cryin' Mercy."
Published Oct. 25, 2014
As I walked through the large wooden door entrance, the aroma inside of Pizza Man on 2597 N. Downer Ave. was so intoxicating that it made my stomach quiver. This smell of Italian bliss, of course, stayed with me throughout my visit. Near the bar stood Tony Menzel, a waiter who has worked at Pizza Man since it re-opened in the summer of 2013 following a devastating fire.
Published Oct. 25, 2014
Two nights this month, Paranormal Investigators Milwaukee hosts two guided investigation tours for the general public at the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear, which is located on 839 N. 11th St. in Milwaukee and at the Brumder Mansion, 3046 W. Wisconsin Ave., on Friday, Oct. 31.
Published Oct. 11, 2014
It's a tough act to balance comedy and drama ... especially if you're balancing themes of suicide and familial estrangement with humor and heart. Director Craig Johnson ("True Adolescents") finds just the right balance for the dramedy "The Skeleton Twins," mixing heartache with hilarity, and giving "Saturday Night Live" alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader time to flex their dramatic muscles as estranged suicidal siblings who reunite and find commonality.
Published Oct. 10, 2014
School by school, 4th through 6th grade students, teachers and chaperones filed into the theatre and took their seats in the main house of the Oriental Theatre, waiting to be taken away by the beautifully crafted Spanish-language animated film "AninA." The screening was held as part of Milwaukee Film's education screenings during the film festival.