Cost teatime comedy and suicidal themes don’t make the easiest of bedfellows. Yet the contrast between tone and subject matter was what made Nick Hornby’s source novel so sharp and surprising. In the hands of screenwriter Jack Thorne, the disconnect becomes a recipe for disappointment.
On New Year’s Eve four suicidal strangers from different walks of life (though all white and middle-class) meet by chance atop a London skyscraper. Foiling one another’s attempts at a solitary jump, they make a pact to stay alive until Valentine’s Day.
A disgraced TV personality (Pierce Brosnan), a struggling single mother to a disabled son (Toni Collette), a failed musician (Aaron Paul) and a neglected politician’s daughter (Imogen Poots), they find common ground in their struggles and form a makeshift family.
All four characters feel weirdly underdeveloped, despite each being given their own origin-story segment complete with cutesy voiceover. What’s more, the actors (with the notable exception of a painfully insincere Brosnan) all do their best to ground them in some emotional reality.
Poots’ volatile, outspoken Jess shines brightest, but her tragic family backstory is given short shrift as the quartet become minor celebrities and take a meandering jolly to Spain.
Making his English-language debut, Pascal Chaumeil has little to work with in a script that has sanded off all the novel’s rough edges. Suicide never feels like a reality; it’s a plot device at best here, and not for a single moment do you believe any of these people are truly desperate, with the exception of one raw, genuinely affecting moment from Paul’s J.J. that comes too late.
A Long Way Down squanders acres of potential: for one, a talented cast, saddled with cardboard characters. For another, an intriguing premise, watered down into a schmaltzy cop-out that’s seldom as funny or as moving as it should be.
At best, this is a cringey stab at black comedy redeemed by charismatic stars; at worst it’s a glib and manipulative punt on a subject that deserves more care.
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