In her fourth report from the Tribeca Film Festival, Claire Baiz looks at first-time feature director Matt Ratner’s intriguing family drama Standing Up, Falling Down, which, as a thoughtful film for adults, should on its release offer some relief from the superhero/Disney extravangazas expected to clog the screens this summer.
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Maybe it’s for the best.
Thirty-four-year-old prodigal son Scott Rollins, played by Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation, Modern Family) returns to his old bedroom in his parents’ house after a four-year failed attempt to succeed at stand-up comedy.
His dad, stalwart actor Kevin Dunn (Veep, Ghosted, Code Black), doesn’t even get up off the couch.
Scott plods upstairs, where his lovely thirty-year-old sister Megan (Grace Gummer, of Mr. Robot, The Newsroom, Frances Ha) welcomes her big brother to the Club of Failed Siblings.
Scott’s mom Jeanie, played by Debra Monk (Dietland, Tell Me a Story) is chipper, in that supportive way that makes you want to throw a shoe at her then give her a hug. Or maybe the other way around. To Jeanie, it really wouldn’t matter.
In the grand tradition of Homer Simpson, Bad Santa, and a panoply of Jack Lemmon characters, Scott takes refuge at the local watering hole. This, of course, is where Scott meets Billy Crystal’s character Marty, a pathetic, intrusive drunk whose scruffy wisdom, we discover, has come at a very stiff price.
If a neophyte screenwriter pitched a screenplay with the theme “Maybe it’s for the best” to a producer, it would probably generate a polite “Meh.”
Things happen, though. Not unpredictable things. They hold the audience’s attention, not because they surprise, but because they poke us in our soft parts.
Standing Up, Falling Down is an intimate story, told in a small space and a short, linear time span. It’s not a movie you have to work to understand, it’s a movie that works to understand you. Yeah, it’s pat at times, but the patting is intentional. With billion-dollar blockbuster films assaulting the senses at a theater near you, Standing Up, Falling Down is salve for sore eyes.
Schwartz has done a lot of comedy, so he’s intimately familiar with tragedy. He slides into Scott like an old sock.
Schwartz has great chemistry with Gummer, who echoes the quiet grace of her mom, actress Meryl Streep. The sibling relationship between Scott and Megan is poking and affectionate, and deliciously rife with backstory.
Billy Crystal plays his own dark side. His character, Marty, is shouldered with plenty of emotional baggage, booze, a daughter who is barely polite (Caitlin McGee of Winter Slides, Motion Picture Martyr) and an acrid son (Mike Carlsen, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 30 Rock).
As if Scott’s career bomb wasn’t enough humiliation, he’s obsessed with his ex-girlfriend, Becky, played by Eloise Mumford (the Fifty Shades movies, Chicago Fire). At first, I was irked by the lack of “spark” between Scott and Becky. I’m still wondering if that was intentional, and if my wondering is a good thing or a bad thing. Never mind.
With the symbiotic/substitute relationship between Scott and Marty, some smart studio executive took a second look at the screenplay by Peter Hoare (Kevin Can Wait).
One reason Standing Up, Falling Down flows so well it that it is not written by committee.*
Monotheistic screenplays — where one writer is God of a cinematic universe — are rare in Hollywood. It’s more of a Hindu kind of place, with a hierarchy of deities. Offerings must be made. The gods are easily offended.
In Hollywood, script reincarnation is the order of the day: it’s never a surprise when an original screenplay emerges from a rewrite with severed plot lines and substitute limbs.
No one got in Peter Hoare’s way (though I’m pretty sure Ben Schwartz riffed, and Billy Crystal added baseball and jazz references).
Though much of the credit goes to Hoare’s tight script, first-time feature director Matt Ratner (producer, Band of Robbers, Manson Family Vacation) doesn’t make the same mistake often experienced at family meals: Ratner doesn’t overcook, and he doesn’t keep asking if you want more.
Scenes go down like Jägerbombs: there’s no dribbling, no pandering exposition recaps to be sure the audience “gets it.”
There are explosions and chase scenes — it’s just that the explosions are emotional and the chase scene is on foot.
One thing I didn’t appreciate about the movie was something I expected from the end of the first act.… Yep. Damn. There it is.… Though it’s a logical, familiar way to resolve a particular plot line — and it provides a kick-ass cellphone coda — I’m kinda tired of this, in real life and at the movies.
Though I sighed at one character’s trajectory, I truly appreciate the way this movie handled white middle-class family dynamics. I applaud the way Standing Up, Falling Down redefines success.
While the kids are at the ten-plex ogling superheroes and Disney films this summer, when relatives come to town and you need to find an air-conditioned place to escape your own family drama, consider taking all the adults in the house to Standing Up, Falling Down. It’s the Brian Regan of family dramedies. It doesn’t “work blue,” but it works.
*Check the credits to see if movies you like were written by committee: if “Screenplay by” lists names connected with the word “and,” they wrote the screenplay together. If “and” is replaced with an ampersand (&), it means the writer(s) after the “&” rewrote (a lot or a little of the) screenplay after the first writer(s) thought/hoped the story didn’t need any more “tweaking.”