A Long Way Down review: you kill me
A suicide-club meet-cute? It shouldn’t work, but it does, as wonderfully sardonic British humor and as a reminder that you’re not alone in being messed up in this insane world.
I’m “biast” (pro):
I’ve liked other flicks based on Nick Hornby’s novels
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
It shouldn’t work: this is, after all, a platonic meet-cute among four people who’d planned to throw themselves off the London rooftop where they all run into one another on a particularly despairing New Year’s Eve for each of them. But it works: as wonderfully sardonic British humor (for us), as something to cling to in the face of misery (for them), as a reminder that it’s okay to be fucked up in this insane world and that you’re not alone in feeling helpless in the face of it (for everyone).
There’s disgraced TV talk-show host Martin (Pierce Brosnan: The World’s End, Love Is All You Need), who is disgraced for good reason, and the movie doesn’t pretend otherwise. There’s Maureen (Toni Collette: The Way, Way Back, Fright Night), who is mistaken for a lonely cat lady by heartbroken Jess (Imogen Poots: That Awkward Moment, The Look of Love), though Maureen’s situation is far more complicated than that. And there’s J.J. (Aaron Paul: Smashed, The Last House on the Left), who wants to die for a reason that is either much more understandable or much less understandable than the others… in as much as any reason for wanting to kill yourself can be said to be lucid.
Maybe you have to be a little bit crazy and more than a little depressed for this to work for you (I’ll cop to being both), but director Pascal Chaumeil (Heartbreaker) and screenwriter Jack Thorne — working from a novel by Nick Hornby — seem to walk just the right line between minimizing a serious mental health issue and treating a desire to top yourself as a metaphor for the shit we all live with: life fucking sucks, things mostly don’t go your way, you’re gonna screw it all up big time anyway… but there’s still joy to be found and fun to be had. For the four, it starts when they try to wrest control for themselves of the media sensation they become — someone spills the beans about their pact not to kill themselves at least until Valentine’s Day, and it’s news because Martin is already (in)famous, and Jess’s father (Sam Neill: Escape Plan, The Vow) is an MP — and even that goes wrong. I mean, if you can’t manipulate the media in a way that seems guaranteed to feed the public desire for sensationalism, is there anything you shouldn’t be cynical about in this world?
I like the unusual — for movies — relationships here, that it shows us valuable human connections that aren’t romantic in nature, and I like that all of them own their problems and the movie doesn’t particularly try to make them ingratiating… though they end up being that anyway, just by being resolutely so recognizably flawed. (It’s nice, too, to see Paul and Poots together again in an enjoyable flick: this goes a long way toward washing away the bad taste their Need for Speed left in my mouth.) Still, we’re left with a lyric from a song that J.J., in his mopey grunge band days, wrote: “I don’t mind the pain. It’s the hope that kills me.” That’s supposed to be funny in its emo angst. But it’s pretty spot on.