A Long Way Down begins with a potentially promising premise before it falls, well, you know, <gestures vaguely towards title>. For a film that opens with a suicidal quartet meeting atop a London skyscraper on New Year’s Eve, it demonstrates little actual interest in examining suicide, despites its half-hearted feints at undergraduate psychology. Instead A Long Way Down aims for an entirely generic crowd-pleasing comedy … if it succeeds, it’s only because it sets the bar so low.
I haven’t read the Nick Hornby novel of the same name that formed the foundation of this film; still, if Wikipedia synopses are anything to go by, I’d hazard a guess that director Pascal Chaumeil and screenwriter Jack Thorne have smoothed over any of Hornby’s trademark spikiness. A quarter hour into the film – as it begins to shed the spark of its black comedy/farce opening – we begin to realise that this going to end exactly as you’d expect, with each suicidal character coming together to repair their flaws and learn the value of life and blah blah blah.
While A Long Way Down isn’t good, it’s not without its charms, which are chiefly found in its four central cast members – dubbed “The Topper House Four” after their ‘suicide pact’ becomes a tabloid sensation. There’s Pierce Brosnan playing a British version of Karl Stefanovic (if Stefanovic’s career was ruined after sleeping with an underage girl); Toni Collette as a jittery mum, all nervous tics and freckles and knitted sweaters; and Aaron Paul as a gloomy guitarist – the reason for his suicidal tendencies is never spelled out, but perhaps is partly explained by his role at the front of a grunge band whose sole achievement is playing support for Alt-J.
The surprise highlight for me was Imogen Poots, rejoining Paul after they shared the screen in the dire Need for Speed adaptation. She plays her character, daughter of Sam Neill’s politician, as a sentient line of cocaine: manic brightness cut with bitter honesty. Poots lights up the screen whether she’s twirling in a hospital gown to show off her ass (“my worst feature,” she explains) or calling Rosamund Pike a “bitch.” Honestly, all of the cast members are underserved by the script’s oscillation between cheesy-sitcom-humour and faux-maudlin-D&Ms, but Poots does the best job at making the rudimentary dialogue sing.
The filmmaking on display is competent, if unabashedly commercial – a fitting description for the whole film, really. Chaumeil produces some impressive shots – Brosnan contemplating the London skyline from his vertiginous vantage point, or Poots isolated in the midst of a media throng – but too often slides toward cliché. There’s a profoundly naff one-two punch waiting in the second act; a scene of the Topper House Four frolicking in the surf, scored to generic happy music, is shortly followed by Sad Aaron Paul sulking along the beach at night as generic sad music warbles in the background. The often-clumsy editing doesn’t help matters any.
A Long Way Down features in the upcoming British Film Festival slate, and it’s the kind of thing I’m accustomed to seeing in these minor film festivals – a mid-range, inoffensive product that distributors can pick up on the cheap, and will likely do well thanks to its solid cast and Hornby pedigree. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like these kind of films will be the rule at the British Film Festival, which has a promising program including Mr Turner, ’71, Lilting and Oscar-contender The Imitation Game. A Long Way Down isn’t a terrible film by any stretch, but I can’t really recommend seeing it at the Fest in November when put up against such stiff competition.