A Long Way Down Review
Posted by Terry Lewis on 07.11.2014
Aaron Paul and Pierce Brosnan try turning an anti-suicide pact into a comedy in A Long Way Down! Does the film live up to its strong pedigree? 411's Terry Lewis checks in with his full review!
Pierce Brosnan - Martin Sharp Toni Collette - Maureen Thompson Aaron Paul - J.J. Maguire Imogen Poots - Jess Crichton Rosamund Pike - Linda Abrams Sam Neill - Jess's Dad Tuppence Middleton - Kathy Miller Joe Cole - Chas Johnson
Dark comedy films are always a toughie to pull off, especially when they deal with themes like suicide and depression, yet if you're adapting one of acclaimed off-beat novelist Nick Hornby's books in A Long Way Down after some top adaptations of About A Boy and Fever Pitch, you would expect it to be halfway good somewhere. Sadly a botched direction and misled characterisation would leave you go otherwise.
Disgraced former British morning TV chat show host Martin Sharp (Pierce Brosnan, I Don't Know How She Does It) contemplates suicide on New Year's Eve after a divorce and losing his kids after sleeping unknowingly with an underage girl. As he's building up to jump off a tall building, lovely, dotty mum Maureen (Toni Collette, The Way, Way Back) turns up and kindly waits before the two stop "wild", attention seeking party girl Jess (Imogen Poots, Need For Speed) from jumping off before American lead singer turned pizza boy JJ (Aaron Paul, also Need For Speed) arrives also. The four decide to make a pact to not commit suicide before Valentine's Day to see how they can change their lives but Martin's former fame brings the group into the eye of the unrelenting British media.
In all fairness, A Long Way Down's cast puts in a decent group performance. Brosnan's disgrace lingers over him the entire film as a man trying to identify what he wants from life away from his fame. At the same time, he keeps up his fakey fame face on when it comes to press interviews and TV appearances. Collette is rather lovely all things considered as the stay at home lady who has never been on an aeroplane and Paul does the best he can in a bad situation when he's not given much to do. The one bit of casting which works well is Poots. In a much more entertaining turn as the party girl compared to the last time she teamed up with Paul, she suits the rich daddy's girl gone off the rails down to a tee. Said daddy's girl is played by Sam Neill (Escape Plan) in a role he makes the most of a limited time with. The World's End'sRosamund Pike makes an entertaining cameo as Martin's former co-host who grills him and Jess on the chat show and former British rising star Joe Cole is even more so as Jess's crush at the start.
Whilst the acting is genuinely good, the characters and motivations are simply wrong. Not once do I ever feel like "wow this is someone who is willing to kill themselves" and mean it. There's a massive disconnect with the build up in the opening scenes to the emotions someone would be going through. Take Martin's case for example; a chat show host who did nothing wrong with happy wife and kids before he slept with an underage girl he didn't know he was and is now living in shame because of it. I get WHY he wants to kill himself but there's no emotional showings or thoughts. A narrator's voice is good for exposition but not so great for putting over what characters are feeling at the time, unless they flat out say something like "I am sad and miserable". JJ's character arc isn't very good as he becomes the real drama of the film at the end yet his motivations to do so just seem to come out of nowhere. That said, Maureen's arc makes sense and is the most intriguing to follow. At the start, she wishes to kill herself as her only job in life is to care for her loved disabled son as a single parent and if she's not there he'll get much better care. At the end through the events of the film her son gets better care and she realises inside her son, unable to show his emotions through his disability, is showing the same love back. Quite warming really and makes sense.
The direction of A Long Way Down is so schismed. They clearly want to go the comedy route but the subject material and plot doesn't exactly allow for that. So you're stuck in an awkward position with four people going away and having a good time & still they're thinking about committing suicide. And yet if you look at the promotional materials you'd be forgiven for thinking they're playing up the comedic elements of the film so highly. It makes for uncomfortable viewing for a film to be promoted as that and then go through all the reasoning for their suicide bids. It's an easy hole to go down in a film with subject such as this but A Long Way Down spectacularly trips and falls. I don't really think it's something audiences would react to well as it gives confusing messages as to what kind of film it is and also it's not even overly funny at times. It barely raises a titter from me.
I'll be honest here and admit that I have had issues before dealing with certain topics in A Long Way Down and as such I don't feel the film accurately reflects the issues at hand. As well as a fault of the direction for not placing these characters on screen from page better and accurately reflecting their thought process for their reasons for their suicide attempts, it feels insulting for them to become media stars without seeking mental health help. You can argue their pact and friendship gets around that but wouldn't you seek to speak to proper people who can help instead of complete randomers you just met? Of course, with mental health issues such as thoughts of suicide, there's no correct answers I guess but you would have thought there would be an effort to promote the care available. I've been there before and it seems wrong just to totally dismiss professional health care in this situation.
The 411: A Long Way Down is ultimately a massive failure in trying to make a "dark comedy" film out of an anti-suicide pact. Given how emotionally awkward that sounds to audiences an the fact they try and make a charming comedy out of it, it's insulting to those who've gone through issues depicted in the film. Decent cast performance but their characters are not shown to be believable in their reasons and emotions. Insulting.