A Long Way Down brings four troubled strangers together in the most contrived of scenarios to watch the sparks and scuffles.
It’s New Year’s Eve, that night for playing up and looking forward, but the only direction Martin Sharp (Pierce Brosnan, The World’s End) wants to go is down. Standing atop London’s aptly nicknamed Topper’s Tower as midnight approaches, he is ready to make a leap to oblivion, until the mild-mannered Maureen (Toni Collette, Tammy) interrupts his jump. Soon, the obviously inebriated and overly opinionated Jess (Imogen Poots, Are We Officially Dating?) and stoic pizza delivery guy J.J. (Aaron Paul, Need for Speed) join their number, congregating on the snowy roof for the same reason. Each has their problems, but after an eventful evening they decide to join in a pact, promising to wait for their date with fate until Valentine’s Day six weeks later.
An ensemble comedy, A Long Way Down thus brings four troubled strangers together in the most contrived and clumsy of scenarios to watch the sparks and scuffles fly. It’s a problematic premise to be certain, one stemming from Nick Hornby’s 2005 novel of the same name, and endeavouring to adopt a light-hearted approach to the subjects of depression and suicide. Rough backgrounds are sketched out, establishing former TV presenter Martin’s fall from grace, single mother Maureen’s feeling of helplessness, politician’s daughter Jess’ acting out, and musician J.J.’s pervading uncertainty. Yet, in the alternating perspectives and lazy categorisations, missing is the depth that turns the characters into anything more than tools of emotional obviousness and narrative convenience.
Condensing personality traits and thematic complexities is a common bugbear with book to film adaptations, though previous translations of Hornby’s work – the musings on masculinity of Fever Pitch, High Fidelity and About a Boy – have largely avoided the simplification trap. Tasking French director Pascal Chaumeil, better known for frothy romantic comedies such as Heartbreaker and Fly Me to the Moon, with such a task may account for the tonal inconsistencies; however screenwriter Jack Thorne has handled the marriage of pathos and occasional pithiness before and better in writing for television programs Skins, This is England ’86 and This is England ’88. Here, the helmer’s fluffiness and the scribe’s attempted poignancy create a pop-psychology effort that is piecemeal and patchwork in its sentiment.
Chaumeil has assembled talent capable of adding colour to thinly drawn creations perhaps best described as self-help cyphers, their performances and interactions the film’s strongest element. They may not provoke the breezy laughter intended in the awkward script’s avoidance of the dark heart of the source material, nor do they add any urgency to an effort devoid of the desperation normally seen with the suicidal, but they do sell a sense of unlikely camaraderie if nothing else. Acting smug, shy, bratty and brooding in turn, their generic contrasts work where the tale’s attempt at farce swiftly fails. Alas, being asked to coast through clichéd scenarios – dancing to “I Will Survive”, for example – does no one any favours.
A Long Way Down is laced with smatterings of aesthetic flair, particularly in the elevated gloom of rooftop scenes, as well as glimpses of insight, most notably when the four find fame and are harassed and harangued by the morbid media. Accordingly, it retains a kernel of potential for becoming something more than a subpar sitcom-like musing on persevering through life’s difficulties, but one that never grows or blossoms. Anytime anything of intrigue appears likely to rear its head, the filmmaker takes the easy option: frolicking on holiday rather than exploring misery, barreling through with comedic guns blazing instead of showing thoughtfulness, and signposting every event and emotion over leaving anything even remotely ambiguous. The end result is mawkish, manipulative and mediocre, playing like a satire of a stereotype of support groups. An impressive cast aside, it’s a long way up for the film to climb to become anything other than blandly, broadly adequate.
Rating; 2.5 stars out of 5
A Long Way Down
Director: Pascal Chaumeil
UK / Germany, 2014, 96 mins
2014 Emirates British Film Festival
Melbourne: 5 – 26 November
Sydney: 6 – 26 November
Adelaide: 5 – 16 November
Perth: 5 – 16 November
Canberra: 6 – 23 November
Brisbane: 6 – 16 November
Byron Bay: 6 – 16 November
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