US Release Date: 07-11-2014
Directed by: Pascal Chaumeil
- Pierce Brosnan, as
- Toni Collette, as
- Imogen Poots, as
- Aaron Paul, as
- Zara White, as
- Joe Cole, as
- Evelyn Duah, as
- Therese Bradley, as
- Nurse 2
- Sam Neill, as
- Priyanga Burford, as
- Josef Altin, as
- Diana Kent, as
- Rosamund Pike, as
- Shola Adewusi, as
- Ilan Goodman as
- Airline Steward
Pierce Brosnan, Imogen Poots, and Toni Collette in A Long Way Down.
A comedy involving attempted suicide is a tricky thing to deliver. It can't be played too much for laughs or the emotional impact will be lost, but if it's played too seriously then the humor becomes morbid and out of place. Or you can travel the route this movie does, which is such a safe one that it ends up rather bland despite its talented cast.
The story is adapted from the novel by Nick Hornby, but rather loosely, losing most of the book's depth and dark humor. It opens on New Year's Eve atop a favorite suicide spot in London, where 4 strangers converge with the intention of throwing themselves to their death. Martin (Brosnan), is a disgraced former celebrity who lost his career, family and fame after spending time in prison for sleeping with an under-age girl. Maureen (Collette), is a single mother with a disabled son who feels helpless in the life she's been given. Jess (Poots), is an emotional and dramatic young girl with daddy issues and a troubled love life. And lastly, J.J. (Paul) is a young American who claims he is dying of cancer. After an awkward conversation on top of the roof, a strange sort of friendship is formed amongst them and they agree to make a pact that none of them will try to kill themselves at least until Valentine's day.
Each of the characters narrates a portion of the story to varying degrees of success. The women are slightly more successful at it than the men. Collette delivers a heartfelt and emotional performance as Maureen. She is one of the most talented character actresses working today. Her situation is one of the only ones to generate real emotion and makes the other's problems seem mild by comparison. Poots also delivers a nice performance as Jess. It'd be easy to dismiss her as a girl indulged by her father and too dramatic in her relationships, but Poots gives her just enough edge and the script gives her enough humor to keep her likable and relatable. Brosnan is fine as Martin, but the script lets him down. His ego makes him hard to like and it's difficult to feel any sympathy for him. J.J. is the least developed character and Paul's performance is rather flat. The emotional climax, which should be his big scene, lacks impact.
These are all very different people and the script struggles to make us believe that they would maintain their friendship. And this is an important point because the message of the film is that once these characters stop obsessing over their own problems and start looking to help others, the urge to commit suicide starts to recede. Simplistic? Certainly, but it's a valid point in regards to certain situations. J.J.'s reveal at the end of the film is supposed to be a counterpoint to this, but as I wrote, it fails to deliver the needed contrast.
The very Hollywood ending also undercuts the emotional impact of the story. It didn't need to end with a tragedy, but it didn't need to be this much of a feel good one.
Usually I complain about movies being too long, but this one feels ruthlessly edited to fit in under 90 minutes. It needed a few more scenes of character development to show why these people stayed in contact and to develop more sympathy for some of them.
Despite being a disappointment overall, there are a couple of things to enjoy here. There's some nice humor scattered throughout the story and the cast is indeed talented and likable. The things that work in the movie are almost entirely because of them. It's too bad the script and the editing let them so far down.
It's a pity Hornby couldn't have adapted his own novel. He's proved himself an able screenwriter in the past. Perhaps he could have delivered something more nuanced and meaningful.
Imogen Poots and Aaron Paul in A Long Way Down
I agree there is not much nuance in the script but how much more meaningful can you get than learning you want to live again? Perhaps Scott read the book and this film adaptation pales in comparison, but I have not and watched it with no preconceived ideas. Consequently, I found it to be a pleasant enough story on suicide and was not at all put off by the very Hollywood ending.
Scott felt Martin was the hardest to like, but I found him no less likable than the rest. He is famous, arrogant and had sex with a minor, which sent him to prison. He is also a father. How could a father possibly explain that to his child? “I feel humiliated!” He confesses to the others at one point.
Maureen has a grown, severely handicapped son that manipulates most of her time but it is hardly an excuse for her to kill herself. As inconvenient and stifling as he must be, she is his primary care giver. How could she desert him? Toni Collette is a great actress but Maureen is not so likable.
Imogen Poots steals every scene as the extroverted Jess, who has daddy and boyfriend problems. I could not relate much to her but her issues are real enough to her. The same can be said of J.J. He simply does not like himself. His dilemma being that no matter what he does, he can never escape himself. I liked the scene at the end with Aaron Paul confessing and explaining his point of view. Sure, it could have been milked for more emotion but it still works well enough.
Paul also has some of the films better lines such as, “I don't mind the pain. It's the hope that kills me.” and “Other people are allowed to be in pain.” The best scene in the entire film is when they go on a talk show, which Martin used to co-host. Rosamund Pike plays his former co-host who feigns being professional while humiliating her guests.
A Long Way Down has a nice message about how much everyone needs a support system but as Scott noted, it never lets us in far enough to truly understand the pain these people are experiencing. It was filmed before Need for Speed (2014) and it was Paul’s suggestion that Poots audition for the lead in that film. Neither movie is anything to brag about but Poots comes across better here while Paul’s performance is the only thing worth noting about Need for Speed.
Imogen Poots, Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, and Aaron Paul in A Long Way Down.
After watching this movie I'm surprised at all the negative reviews it's received. Perhaps fans of the book dislike it but for others it's not so bad? At any rate my opinion is closer to Eric's as I enjoyed A Long Way Down. I liked the characters, thought the performances were all pretty solid (with Brosnan being the standout), and found plenty of dark humor to laugh at along the way. Clearly we're in the minority, however, as Rotten Tomatoes currently has A Long Way Down at just 23% fresh on its Tomatometer.
One of the main complaints seems to be the fact that much of the inner dialogue that each character expresses in the novel is absent in the film. But honestly, with the possible exception of J.J. (easily the least interesting and plausible of the four), the script manages to make each of the other three main characters into fully rounded individuals, without utilizing much inner dialogue. I certainly felt as if I knew them. The reason J.J. probably worked better on the page is because he's the only one of the four without a tangible reason for wanting to kill himself. His problem is existential and that's not easy to put across onscreen.
Each of the others, Maureen, Martin and Jess, has a clear catalyst for their problems. Maureen's severely disabled son and all the emotional and practical problems that come with caring for him; Martin's prison sentence that cost him his career, his family, and -most painfully- his dignity; for Jess it's the disappearance of her sister from which she's never fully recovered as well as having to live the very public life of a politician's daughter. No wonder J.J. makes up that story about having cancer. His biggest problems are his band breaking up and being dumped by a girlfriend. Not exactly the stuff of high tragedy.
The script brings these four disparate individuals together in a manner that is both realistic and Hollywood at the same time. It plays out in a series of vignettes; searching for Jess in that nightclub, the vacation they take together, the talk show scene Eric mentioned, the reunion at the hospital, and then that final meeting back where the story began - on the roof of the Toppers Building. The happy Hollywood ending didn't bother me either since A Long Way Down is, in several key ways, like a modern day Meet John Doe. What was good enough for Capra is certainly good enough for Chaumeil.
Photos © Copyright Magnolia Pictures (2014)