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Film about standup comic mostly falls flat

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Billy Crystal and Ben Schwartz in Standing Up, Falling Down (Unobstructed View photo)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

A struggling young man, sardonic and charismatic, afraid of growing up and confused about his future, meets a wise mentor who helps him understand himself. Through various emotional confrontations, the young man ends up a little more confident about the future than before.

Sound familiar? It might be because some variation on this indie story, this millennial male self-examination with pungent undertones of sexism and little true insight to offer, seems to come out every few months. This month –specifically on Feb. 21, when it opens in Toronto – it’s Standing Up, Falling Down, the debut film by director Matt Ratner, starring the charming Jewish duo of Ben Schwartz and Billy Crystal.

Schwartz, a genuine comedic talent who has showcased impressive range as a leading man in indie projects such as I’m a Mitzvah and The Earliest Show, cruises through this story as Scott, a flailing comic who broke up with his girlfriend and left his native Long Island, N.Y., for Los Angeles four years ago. Inches from admitting defeat, he finally moves back home, where he chances upon a kooky man in a bar bathroom. The older man, Marty, is a dermatologist and unlikely Twitter comedian, played by Crystal.

Crystal is the reason to see the film. He singlehandedly props up the story with the gravitas and the thinly veiled sorrow needed to play a sad-clown bachelor whose two wives died tragic deaths. He’s trying to reconnect with his adult son who never wants to see him again, so instead he flips blueberry pancakes and pours glasses of bourbon for dinner every night. When he meets Scott, he finds a placeholder for his stubborn offspring – someone about the right age, also Jewish, who actually wants to spend time with him. 

Crystal hasn’t enjoyed many meaty, human roles in his career, and perhaps by choosing so few of them he is doing himself a service, disappearing from the public eye until he launches himself back into the spotlight, looking like a whole different person. Marty edges toward stereotypes, but that works for Crystal, who shines in the role.

Unfortunately for the leading men, the overall film is a stereotype of the introspective indie genre. The guys laugh through their lines and go on mild, inoffensive misadventures. They drink and smoke weed. They wake up hung over. They moan about getting older.

In these sorts of films, the cinematography is always the same (handheld close-ups of lead men staring out of windows); the character is always the same (quirky and observational, confused and anxious, banking on boyish charm); the script falls into the same stereotypical pitfalls (why are so many supermodel-quality women blindly attracted to these guys? And why do they all have black best friends?).

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Standing Up, Falling Down falls into many of the same problems that its predecessors have suffered, but falls harder for its particularly weak writing, prolonged scenes and confusing character choices. Neither the director nor writer Peter Hoare seems interested in anything beyond a loose character sketch. Details exist but are irrelevant. Subtext is scant. It is what it is. 

As the two guys become closer, it’s hard to say what the takeaways are. Scott and Marty don’t really learn much from each other. After falling back into old habits with his ex, Scott, valiant man that he is, breaks things off, only to chance upon a truer version of love later on.

Marty doesn’t really teach him anything, nor does he learn much – he just makes Scott laugh. The same could be said of the audience – if they laugh at all.

 

Standing Up, Falling Down opens in Toronto on Feb. 21 at the Carlton Cinema

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