Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Long Way Down: Movie Review

A new direction can seem uneven, but the original wit, whimsy, humour and insight is intact.
“A Long Way Down” is a dark comedy because, you know, suicide isn’t supposed to be funny. It’s like a light-hearted drama told straight and seriously. It is told with seriousness but includes characters and dialogue ripe for laughter. The movie makes the story more dramatic, but at the same time, not as dark as the book version it is based on. I’m a huge fan of author Nick Hornby and the same-titled novel. 2014

Directed by: Pascal Chaumeil

Screenplay by: Jack Thorne

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, Aaron Paul

The movie has a much quicker introduction to the characters and then takes us right into the story of how they’re going to find their way down. It’s new year’s eve in London atop a tall building known for suicides. Martin (Pierce Brosnan) is a disgraced talk show celebrity – out of prison, out of job prospects, and out of people who will give him third and fourth chances. But then comes Maureen (Toni Collette), a single mother stuck in a hopeless life, and they very awkwardly don’t want to jump in front of each other. And then comes Jess (Imogen Poots) a young manic girl desperate to get her ex-boyfriend out of her head, and Maureen and Martin know they have to stop her. And then comes JJ (Aaron Paul) delivering pizzas as he has managed to screw up everything else in his life. Together they take the stairs back down and begrudgingly decide to help each other stay alive until Valentine’s Day.

Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, Pierce Brosnan and Aaron Paul
in A LONG WAY DOWN, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
The movie changes a lot from the book, truncating characters’ introductions, and truncating their reasons for dissatisfaction, flipping scenes around and even changing some motivations. However, it was very clearly done for the sake of time and efficiency. And they actually did a tremendous job of keeping the same tone and intent even without keeping an entire scene consistent. At which point the dialogue also has to change, but even then the characters had the same voice and the same wit.

Structurally, the film opted for four narrators, each telling their own story. But they also tell their story only once, and then using the major plot points to switch to the next character. Brosnan’s section is first; his is just used to introduce the characters and the story, and nothing in particular stands (he’s also unlikely to be the favorite character of any viewer).

Imogen Poots and Aaron Paul in A LONG WAY DOWN,
a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
But then Imogen Poots as Jess goes second; she is the funniest, maintaining her characterizations from the novel exactly. She says things she shouldn’t say to bring laughs and can always find the nugget of truth in the heart of any situation to earn a bit of sympathy which the immature Jess wouldn’t otherwise deserve. Imogen Poots is the stand-out, probably because she gets to portray the most entertaining character.

Aaron Paul as the most relatable JJ goes third. He was changed the most from the novel, but I have a feeling that’s because Paul can portray so much with so little. Most of his changes in this section were very fitting, and his chemistry with Poots’ Jess allowed those two characters (the most likable and the most entertaining) to get us through the middle (and the heart) of the film.

At this point I was ready to get to something more exciting, but instead the very solemn Maureen takes us through to the new (and improved?) climax. Her section was written just for the film and as a fan of the book, I didn’t like that at all. But then again, characters who are written for the sole purpose of being sympathetic never get much sympathy from me. Her part was also very slow and sad, and veers greatly from the tone and style of everything that came before it.

But then we get to the ending, back on the roof of Toppers House on Valentine’s Day, to see how far they have come and how far they have to go to come back down.

It’s a new ending, to give viewers something more intense and dramatic. I don’t think it necessarily fit with everything the film showed before. However, “A Long Way Down” did a tremendous job keeping the whimsical and witty nature of a suicide comedy and the tone of the book, that I was perfectly willing to let them take me wherever they wanted to go. Especially after Aaron Paul made me fall in love with him all over again and Imogen Poots kept the original and humorous insight from the novel.