' ' Cinema Romantico: Standing Up, Falling Down

Monday, March 02, 2020

Standing Up, Falling Down

Scott (Ben Schwartz) and Marty (Billy Crystal), unlikely if fast friends, are hanging out late one evening, in the latter’s car, parked near an empty playground, talking, laughing, smoking dope. A security guard, however, interrupts their stoned-out bliss and, for a moment, the scene gets tense. Then, Scott realizes the Security Guard is his sister’s boyfriend. Everyone laughs, the tension evaporates, the Security Guard even tokes up with them. It’s emblematic of how “Standing Up, Falling Down”, despite clearly yearning to each its misanthropes a life lesson, turns everything, no matter how grave, into a joke. Then again, Scott is a standup comedian, or an aspirant one and so the movie itself often just feels like a series of standup sets, evoked in how director Matt Ratner shoots it, with little sense of place and a lot of shot-reverse shots of Scott and Marty just riffing, as if all the world’s an evening at the improv.

As “Standing Up, Falling Down” begins, Scott is leaving L.A. and returning home, his show business aspirations having fizzled, an opening familiar to a kind of indie movie in which, the late Roger Ebert once wrote, “the big city will crush you, but your hometown is a center of depression.” True that. Scott’s Dad (Kevin Dunn) hardly says hello, just comments on the nature show he’s watching, though the scenes between Scott and his sister, Megan (Grace Gummer), are much better. Granted, we never quite learn why she, at 30, is living at home too, the script showing little interest in supporting character motivations, though in their scenes together, all ribbing each other, which Gummer and Schwartz play with sly, this-is-fun smiles intrinsically suggests why Scott became a standup in the first place.

If Ratner sees their relationship clearly, the same cannot be said of Scott’s relationship to Becky (Eloise Mumford), The One Who Got Away. Of course, it’s more a case of he let her go, which is typically how it goes in these sorts of movies, though “Standing Up, Falling Down” only briefly flirts with rendering this cliché imaginatively. Initially, Scott finds Becky’s picture on Facebook and, ah, shall we say, pleasures himself to it, a moment portraying him as fairly pathetic. It also could have rendered The One Who Got Away as merely a projection in his own mind, though the movie has no designs on getting so philosophical, mostly eschewing the darker implications of this scene to simply transform Becky into device to get Scott back to center, realizing that once he doesn’t need to worry about her anymore, he’s ok, turning her into the very projection it could have skewered, alas.

It might have been something to work through in his comedy too, comedy as a confessional. But if his hopeful occupation is right there in the title, “Standing Up, Falling Down” doesn’t take much interest in the process, never quite connecting events that transpire to any observant truth in his comedy, underlined in the notepad we briefly see him holding, with JOKES written at the top. In fact, after his mid-movie open mic, which to one man’s ears wasn’t anything more special than the drivel Arthur Fleck told, even though everyone is required to tell him how funny he was, the standup comedy thread is, oddly, just lost.

Then again, the real comedy show here is Schwartz and Crystal. Whether everything they do is funny, I don’t know, that’s up to every viewer to decide for her or his self, but I always believed that these two thought the other was funny. And Crystal is not only having fun, but giving a sense of desperation in his need to turn everything into a joke, underscored in a sometimes raspy voice that all alone belies all those drinks he downs and all the baggage he carries. “Stranding Up, Falling Down”, while admirably never allowing his past sins to just be wiped clean, also doesn’t quite know how to see him through to the end of his journey and, as such, just writes him out of it. I dunno. In the moment, it felt like a cheat. A few days later, it felt like, as I once heard Bob Newhart say, the punchline you finally laugh at in the car on the way home from the show.

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