Director: Pascal Chumeil
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, Aaron Paul, Rosamund Pike, Sam Neil
Written by: Jack Thorne and (based on the book) Nick Hornby
Running Time: 96 mins
Release date: 21st March 2014
A Long Way Down is a new British tragi-comedy, based on a book by Nick Hornby and with a nice, neat cast. It deals with suicide, which is always a tricky subject to make jokes about. The trouble is, how do you balance the comedy elements with such a serious topic? Unfortunately, this is where this film’s main problems lie.
Martin Sharp was a top Breakfast TV host whose career and private life is brought crashing down after a night with an underage girl. With nothing left to live for, he goes to the top of a building on New Year’s Eve to jump. Before he can, Maureen arrives, another potential suicide victim there because she cannot cope with life outside the confines of living with a disabled son who needs 24/7 care. Then kooky Jess bursts in, the daughter of a politician whose sister has vanished and who is having relationship problems. Finally, American rock singer JJ, with more issues than can be mentioned. The four strive to help each other and form a pact that they won’t go ahead with killing themselves until Valentine’s Day, so see if life is better for them or not.
I haven’t read Hornby’s book and so I am not sure how the whole tone is played out but on film, it is slightly all over the place, not helped by the improbable opening scene, in which we are first introduced to the characters. The trouble is, they don’t seem desperate enough to want to throw themselves off the roof and so it comes across as slightly farcical, like any moment the vicar is going to enter with his trousers round his ankles.
It also seems odd that these unlikely foursome would be drawn together. None of them have anything in common. It would probably be difficult for them to be in the same room and strike up a conversation, let alone start going on holiday together. They also seem far too jolly and together for them to seem to want to end it.
The plot is full of contrivances that are only there to move things along or make it more interesting. Their story is leaked to the press and so they have to go after the press with a story of seeing angels (which is so implausible, it’s amazing that they managed to get on daytime TV). Although the brief screen time for Rosamund Pike as a “sympathetic” breakfast TV host looking for a tear or two from her guests, rings wonderfully true.
The cast work really hard for this tale. Aaron Paul is given much more to do than he was in the awful Need For Speed, as J.J., the mysterious American who says he’s going to kill himself for health reasons but has something deeper. Playing the quiet, cool type, he only gets to shine near the end and show he can hold himself with his fellow cast members.
Imogen Poots, who co-starred with Paul in Need For Speed, plays the smart-mouthed, kooky Jess and while she does this kind of character with her eyes shut and hands tied behind her back, there are moments when you just want her to shut up. She interrupts conversations with banal chit-chat and while she may flash her big blue eyes, she could be inches away from being slapped.
So it is up to the two elder members of the cast to keep things level. Pierce Brosnan, who seems to be getting better in every film, is terrific as Martin, a man whose life is a mess after a mistake. He has such a strong command of the screen and Bond seems but a distant memory. There is one moment which produces another “Brosnan, what are you doing?” Not singing, this time, but the worst Dad dancing ever.
For me, the performance of the lot was Toni Collete, as the distant, reclusive Maureen. She plays her with such vulnerability and her tale is the most heartbreaking of the lot. She has the hardest time of the cast but rises to the challenge brilliantly, hence why she is such a strong and talented actress. Interesting fact, this is the second time Collette has starred in a Nick Hornby adaptation. The first being, About A Boy where she played a woman who is trying to commit suicide. Hmm.
The film has been a real kicking by other critics. It’s not perfect, by a long shot and it’s handling of such a difficult subject does come across on occasions as glib and with the misstep beginning, this could have been a total disaster. It’s not. Just that knowing Hornby’s previous books, I am sure, in the right hands, this would have been up there with About A Boy and High Fidelity. Massively flawed but a total disaster.