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STANDING UP, FALLING DOWN (2020) review

February 21, 2020

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written by: Peter Hoare
produced by: Chris Mangano, Matt Ratner, Rick Rosenthal, John Hermann and Gabrielle Nadig
directed
 by: Matt Ratner
rated: NR (Content equivalent of R)
runtime: 91 min.
U.S. release date: February 21, 2020

 

“Regret is the only thing that’s real.”

 

The term “dad movie” has become a pejorative for long, boring movies where people sit around and talk. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks have trafficked in the genre for years, but I think its parameters can be expanded to include any movie one could watch with their dad. “Standing Up, Falling Down” is the latest film to tick enough dad movie boxes for me to comfortably call it one, though the mere presence of Billy Crystal alone earned it a place in the genre.

Ben Schwartz plays Scott, a failing stand-up comedian who finally calls it quits after several years in L.A. spent trying to “make it.” He returns home to Long Island to live with his emotionally doting mother (Debra Monk), emotionally challenged father (Kevin Dunn), and emotionally stunted younger sister (Grace Gummer). He mopes around town secretly hoping to run into his ex (Eloise Mumford), the proverbial one that got away despite the fact that Scott was the one who ended things.

 

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During a night out at a bar, Scott runs afoul of a belligerent drunk named Marty (Crystal), who turns out to be a dermatologist with a serious drinking problem. While not overtly aggressive or confrontational, it’s clear that Marty is the kind of guy who likes to have a good time, even when nobody else is with him. The two men strike up an unlikely friendship, brought together mostly because Scott’s a son in need of a father, while Marty’s a father in need of a son.

The script by Peter Hoare is a creaky clockwork of setups and payoffs, machinations laid out so plainly you can’t help but get ahead of the film. Then other things arise that seem to be leading you in one direction, only to turn out to be dead ends, perhaps remnants of dropped setups and/or punchlines. For example, Marty is a quick wit like virtually every character Crystal plays, and his demeanor would lead you to believe that he too was a failed stand-up comic in a past life. Nope, he’s just a guy who likes to crash funerals and ask hacky stand-up-esque questions like “Why do they call it a wake?”

 

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“Standing Up, Falling Down” is earnest in its desire to get these two characters together and help them learn and grow through one another’s past experiences, but offers nothing outside of bromides and life lessons learned in other movies of this sort. It’s not badly written or badly acted or badly directed, it’s just sort of a mishmash of cliches you’ve seen a hundred times before in a hundred other movies. Nothing about it feels urgent or of the moment or relevant to this time and place.

I also can’t help but wonder if Scott is supposed to be a terrible stand-up. The two times we see him doing stand-up in the film, his routine is bad. Is that supposed to be the point? In another scene, he watches “Howard the Duck” with a notepad for scribbling jokes. Is he hoping to use the film for inspiration for his stand-up or is he unironically enjoying a universally loathed movie to demonstrate that he’s an outsider? It’s like the film’s writer is trying to tell us that this guy shouldn’t be a stand-up, but he didn’t explicitly put that into dialogue.

 

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As far as Crystal goes, he hasn’t had a major role in a film since 2012’s kids-these-days comedy “Parental Guidance,” but he doesn’t show any signs of rust. Crystal was never the best actor of his comedic bunch—he is notably the only member of the Comic Relief trifecta to not have an Oscar—but he had a charm and charisma that carried many movies. Here he is very good as a man filled to the brim with regret, but who constantly pushes it down or drowns it out with booze. The material he’s given doesn’t quite rise to his level, but if you like what Billy Crystal does, you’ll enjoy him doing it here.

Ultimately, “Standing Up, Falling Down” is yet another movie about two white men on either side of middle age learning from one another’s mistakes. It’s pleasant enough, but brings nothing new to a discussion that seems like it ended several years ago. If you want proof that Billy Crystal has still got it, you could do a lot worse. Beyond that, it’s just not good enough to recommend without serious qualifiers.

 

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RATING: **

 

 

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