'A Long Way Down': Four characters on the brink
I haven't read Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down, but it's hard to imagine that the novelist's characters - four lost souls who meet on a London rooftop on New Year's Eve, ready to jump - can possibly be as sketchily realized as they are in Pascal Chaumeil's abrasive, quasi-comic film adaptation.
A Long Way Down begins with each of its principals making their entrance - and preparing to make their final exit from a high-rise precipice on the last night of the year. Pierce Brosnan is first - he's Martin, a popular breakfast-time TV host whose star has plummeted thanks to a sex scandal involving a minor. From celebrity to prison cell, and now this: a long walk off a short ladder, the pavement beckoning.
But his suicide is interrupted by the appearance of Maureen (Toni Collette), a wan and lonely woman with a similar agenda - and a seriously disabled son back home. Martin and Maureen get talking, and then another stranger, a birdlike young woman named Jess, and then another stranger, J.J., a glum pizza delivery guy with an American accent, step out of the fire stairs into the night. Jess is played by Imogen Poots, J.J. by Aaron Paul. The pair costarred in Need for Speed, the fast and frivolous road-trip race pic from Disney that opened in March. A third Paul/Poots collaboration would be a mistake.
Of course, none of the four end their lives. Instead, they sign a pact to not attempt to off themselves again until the next holiday with a high rate of suicide: Valentine's Day. Because Jess' dad (Sam Neill, with a mustache) is a prominent pol, and because Martin is still grist for the media mill, the press start dogging the foursome. A retreat to an island resort is in order, where drinks and soul-baring ensue.
Whatever the intent of the filmmakers, a story that hinges on existential despair requires at least a modicum of emotional credulity. We have to feel the pain of these people - just a wee bit - if we are to care, to believe.
But although they are embodied by real actors, the roles of Martin and Maureen, Jess and J.J in A Long Way Down have all the flesh and blood of a cartoon. Where's Wile E. Coyote when you need him?
A Long Way Down *1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Pascal Chaumeil. With Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul, and Imogen Poots. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, nudity, adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Bourse.