A film that’s something of a rarity in these strange and constantly changing times. After doing the rounds at smaller festivals in the US, Standing Up, Falling Down was never scheduled for a cinema release in this country. It was always going to be digital for this comedy with a title that signposts what it’s likely to be about – and doesn’t fight shy of having more than one meaning, in an ever so slightly cheesy way.
Ben Schwartz, recently the voice of Sonic The Hedgehog, plays wannabe stand-up comedian Scott, who doesn’t quite make it in L A, throws in the towel and returns to Long Island to live with his parents. In a local bar, he strikes up a conversation with Marty (Billy Crystal), a regular with a penchant for acting his shoe size rather than his age, and the two become unlikely buddies. Both have emotional baggage and problems, both relish good banter and both fill a gap in each other’s lives as they give each other the support they don’t seem to be able to find anywhere else.
It’s a double act that tells you immediately to expect jokes and laughs – aside from his on-screen career, Schwartz is a stand-up in his own right – and there’s plenty of them. Some raise a smile, others go a lot further, in what is a familiar set-up, an odd couple bromance between two men from different generations and with very different personalities but who find common ground. Scott is initially the less interesting character – the problem with his act is that he has nothing to base his material on, so his gags are all impersonal and, inevitably, flat – while Marty’s colourful behaviour is more engaging to the point of scene stealing. But, as their respective back stories are revealed – Scott’s regrets about a previous romance, Marty’s loneliness and estrangement from his son – the two become equals and the tone of the film shifts from comedy to emotional, if perhaps conventional, drama.
With a double act at its centre, chemistry between the two is critical and the good news is that Schwartz and Crystal most definitely have it. Schwartz is allowed to venture away from simply going for gags and show his dramatic chops, while Crystal gives a performance that ranges from hilarity to heartbreak, even if he can’t resist more than a touch of schmaltz. The two share some lively scenes when they talk about their problems and bring a freshness to the dialogue that’s both unexpected and welcome. But when you’ve got a partnership that works, removing one of them is always a risk and Crystal is missed sorely in one particular section of the film.
While Standing Up, Falling Down isn’t the most original of premises, its two stars and their energetic riffs lift it to another level – not the top, admittedly, but a higher one than its storyline actually deserves. That it feels like an extended episode of a much-loved TV sitcom isn’t to its detriment: it just shows that the two characters need a good hour and a half to develop and mature. And hanging out with them for that amount of time isn’t hard work.
Comedy, Drama | Cert: 15 | Signature Entertainment | Digital, 30 March 2020 | Dir. Matt Ratner | Ben Schwartz, Billy Crystal, Grace Gummer, Eloise Mumford, Debra Monk, Kevin Dunn.