A Long Way Down Movie Review
With a darkly serious theme and a corny rom-com filmmaking approach, this film never quite comes together into something meaningful. The characters are full of possibilities, and the story catches the imagination, but director Pascal Chaumeil (Heartbreaker) never seems sure whether he's making a black comedy or an emotional drama.
It starts on New Year's Eve in London, as disgraced TV host Martin (Pierce Brosnan) decides to jump off a tower block. But he's interrupted by the arrival of the timid Maureen (Toni Collette), who is followed by the fiery Jess (Imogen Poots) and the secretive J.J. (Aaron Paul). Together, these four lost souls make a pact to stay alive for six more weeks until Valentine's Day, the next popular suicide date in the calendar. But their story leaks to the press, capitalising on Martin's notoriety and the fact that Jess is the daughter of a high-profile politician (Sam Neill). So they decide to escape to the sunshine for some peace.
Instead of playing this out as a brittle exploration of identity and societal expectations, the filmmakers opt for a romantic-comedy formula, with a four-way friendship standing in for the usual love story. This makes the film feel like a substandard Richard Curtis movie, constantly drifting into maudlin sentimentality. And director Chaumeil encourages the cast to overplay every scene, which makes it tricky to believe any of the characters.
Poots suffers most as the shouty Jess, whose depression is connected to the disappearance of her sister. Collette overplays Maureen's shyness after years on her own tending to her disabled son. Paul's J.J. says he has cancer but clearly just feels like a failure. And Brosnan has the most thankless role as a man convicted of underage-sex, ruining his career and family, and yet all he can say in response is, "I thought she was 25."
Yes, the script takes a startlingly glib approach to all of the big issues it's touching on. And the formulaic plot feels pushy in all the wrong ways. So we never believe for a second that these people are genuinely suicidal or that they would want to spend more than a few minutes in each others' presence. And even though the fine actors bring moments of real emotion to their scenes, we don't really want to be around them either.