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Movie Review: “A Long Way Down”

Movie Review: “A Long Way Down”
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The books of Nick Hornby, such as “Fever Pitch”, “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy” have been made into hugely popular films. They cast imperfect protagonists into catalytic situations and inevitably arrive at some kind of redemptive finale. The tone is black comedy…..with sentiment liberally scattered throughout.

“A Long Way Down” is no different but this time there are four protagonists who all decide to commit suicide from the same London skyscraper on the same night…a chilly New Year’s Eve. It’s a premise worthy of a good stage play, with four characters thrown together into a slightly forced environment. But Hornby’s novel uses the rooftop as a kicking off point, not just as a backdrop. The screenplay, by Jack Thorne, then spends time exploring where each character goes, as well as sketching in each backstory.

Martin (Pierce Brosnan), a disgraced talk show host is the first to reach the roof, having hoisted a ladder up 15 flights. Using the ladder to traverse the spikes and barbed wire, he is teetering on the edge, smoking a stogie when Maureen (Toni Collette) surprises him. “Are you going to be long?” she posits, setting the dark tone for this comedy. Sure, it’s not that plausible but with a dash of disbelief suspension, director Pascal Chaumeil (“Heartbreaker”) sets us off on an amusing, if uneven journey of discovery. Martin and Maureen are joined by posh London rich-kid Jess (Imogen Poots) whose dad is a famous politician….and then J.J. (Aaron Paul) an American rockstar manqué.  The ridiculousness of their communal situation ruins the moment, and all four call it quits, only to be brought back together in Martin’s car when driving rain causes him to take pity on the others and offer them lifts home after their failed New Year’s Eve plans. They then form a sort of anti-suicide pact, to keep living at least until Valentine’s Day.

When news of this pact reaches the press (via Jess’s ex-boyfriend), the four are hounded by paparazzi and seek refuge in a Spanish holiday resort.  Fortunately, Hornby’s novel refuses to push Martin and Maureen together into a love match…..but not all the characters escape such an easy outcome.  Their friendships grow and we learn why they each were seeking to end their lives that night. Maureen has a son with cerebral palsy and she believes he would be better off without her (I’m not quite sure why….). Jess had a sister who vanished without a trace a few years back. J.J. claims to have cancer and the married father Martin slept with an under-aged girl.

Martin’s former co-host Penny (played with spot-on Ann Curry-like intensity by Rosamund Pike) gets a funny moment when the four appear on her morning show. Maureen has some truly moving scenes with her son Matty (Josef Altin) and this storyline in particular resonates with emotion. Unfortunately Chaumeil lingers on many scenes for too long and is particularly fond of corny musical interludes. The film stops dead once the four find themselves in Spain.

Not nearly as successful as Hornby’s other book adaptations, “A Long Way Down” is a hit or miss affair.  Having not read the book, I’m not sure if the fault lies in the original material or the transition to the screen. Either way, it is still enjoyable to watch Brosnan subvert his slick Bond image and see Collette as a dowdy, frumpy wallflower. She is quite brilliant in everything she does. Paul doesn’t really roam too far from his “Breaking Bad” character and Poots does poor little rich girl very well. Trying to shed some humor on the subject of suicide may be a risky proposition and to a degree the filmmakers succeed with the balance of comedy and tragedy. It’s in trying to portray the characters learning to live again that the script falls short.


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