Film Review: A Long Way DownThe plot of <i>A Long Way Down</i> is as awkward and as annoying as they come, but some really good acting by the film’s four major stars almost makes this one worth seeing. Almost.
Pascal Chaumeil, the French film director, claims to be an Anglophile who loves reading novels by the popular English writer Nick Hornby—and, according to the publicity for Chaumeil’s A Long Way Down, he had always wanted to adapt one of Hornby’s novels to the screen. If that’s true, it’s understandable that he chose this one: There’s just something so whimsically French about a story in which four diverse people, who’d never know each other under ordinary circumstances, become fast friends after meeting on the roof of a London skyscraper where each has gone to commit suicide.
These four have their reasons, of course, for wanting to take such a drastic step. Martin (Pierce Brosnan) was a famous TV personality until he got caught having sex with a 15-year-old girl—an offense which has publicly humiliated him and ruined his once-glittering career. Maureen (Toni Collette) is a single mom who simply cannot go on giving every waking moment to the care of her disabled son. Jess (Imogen Poots) is an obnoxiously rebellious bundle of energy who cannot get the attention she thinks she deserves from her politician father (Sam Neill). And JJ (Aaron Paul), the only American in the group, has carelessly let his life spiral out of control after he failed to make it big as a rock star.
How is it, you may reasonably ask, that these four characters try to off themselves at the same time—and at the same place? Well, because it’s New Year’s Eve—a popular end-it-all date, apparently—and the skyscraper rooftop where they meet is supposedly the most popular jumping-off place in the U.K. Obviously, not one of the four goes through with it; they get too embarrassed, or too cold or something, and then someone suggests they can always jump later, like on Valentine’s day, the next most popular day to commit suicide. It’s a decision that not only gives them six weeks to reconsider taking their own lives, it also provides the engine that drives the plot. Within their unlikely support group, Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ are literally unable to live without the constant moral support and companionship of the other three.
Have we mentioned that this is a comedy? Well, okay, it’s a black comedy, although it would be difficult for anyone who has seriously contemplated suicide—or known someone who actually accomplished it—to find the humor here. But Jack Thorne’s script does deliver some honest laughs, and along the way it also mines a few meaningful philosophical nuggets about the human condition. That said, the film’s basic premise—and its execution—are so contrived it’s actually painful to see the actors work so hard trying to make these goings-on believable.
The remarkable thing is, no one performance is better than others—a unique accomplishment for a Grade B film like this one. Brosnan convincingly shows that even a self-centered dolt like Martin can be sincerely introspective, while Collette nicely lifts her character from deep depression into something akin to a lust for life. Paul is the very personification of a lost soul, a guy who became way too devoted to his preposterous dreams, and Poots—whose annoying agita may drive some viewers batty—becomes heartbreakingly vulnerable when given the chance.
In other words, the fault in A Long Way Down is definitely not in its stars.
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