Thank goodness for smaller movies that tell smaller stories. These are the movies that deal with human-sized problems in human-sized fashion. We are all so regularly caught up in big events, big cinema, that these smaller films too often escape our notice. Do not let that happen to you with “Standing up, Falling Down.”
Directed by Matt Ratner with a script from Peter Hoare, “Standing Up, Falling Down” stars Ben Schwartz as Scott, a single, perpetual child of a 34-year-old. With his stand up comedy dreams in ruins in Los Angeles, the movie opens with Scott moving back to New York to live with his parents, Gary (Kevin Dunn) and Jeanie (Debra Monk), as well as his adult sister, Megan (Grace Gummer).
As good as the actors who portray Scott’s family are, and as much as there is undoubtedly a complete story to tell that stays within the household, they are not the focus of the movie. Instead, the movie centers on Scott’s newfound relationship with Marty, a twice-widowed alcoholic dermatologist with two estranged kids. Played by Billy Crystal, Marty bumps into Scott (literally) in a bar and over the course of the movie the two prop each other up, each helping the other to make good life choices as they themselves make bad ones.
Scott wants to meet up with with his ex, Becky (Eloise Mumford), again. They were in a long-term relationship when Scott up and vanished, going to L.A. to pursue comedy. Now she’s married. Marty wants to reunite with his kids and while his daughter will talk to him, she doesn’t live in the area. Nearby, Marty only has his son, Adam (Nate Corddry), who want nothing to do with the man. Adam not only won’t let Marty’s grandchildren see their grandfather, Adam calls Marty by his first name. And, as the movie makes clear, while Marty may want to make amends and may have had a lot of problems in his own life, he is not undeserving of Adam’s scorn.
“Standing Up, Falling Down” weaves these two stories together, never hitting the audience over the head with the similarities in both men wanting to reconnect with those they’ve lost, just letting it unfold naturally. While big and important things happen to each of these men, “Standing Up, Falling Down” never shies away from the fact that the events may be important to the men, but they are by no means important to the world at large – the world continues as it is, no matter what these two are up to. This is not a way to minimize their problems, but rather a way to both put them into context and make them universal. It makes the movie that much more touching.
Schwartz and Crystal, both of whom are incredibly funny, are well aware of the movie around them and keep their performances appropriately small. That isn’t to say that neither one cracks a joke, that neither one makes the audience laugh, just that their jokes and laughter are keyed in to the tone of the film and never go beyond it. The men will make you smile and laugh, but there is a wonderful (for the film) sadness attached to them. They are jokes that are so often borne out of the upset with which these two men deal (and create for themselves).
“Standing Up, Falling Down” isn’t going to shake the world. There will be few, if any, memes created from it. There won’t be big long discussions about it, comparing it to some other movie to determine which group of fans is better. It is just a great movie about two men who find each other when they most need a friend, and about how we could all, quite possibly, use a little more kindness in our lives. You won’t find it playing on 4,000 screens this weekend, but you should definitely go out and find it.
photo credit: Shout! Studios