Standing Up, Falling Down will either inspire you to take another crack at the big dream or help with the healing process of settling down.
There are some movies you are just predisposed to enjoy. Standing Up, Falling Down is that movie for dreamers raised in Nassau County on Long Island who failed in the fruition of those aspirations and were forced to return home to rebuild broken egos in the discomfort of their parents’ house. The movie charms not only because it foregrounds Ben Schwartz, Parks and Recreation standout and the current voice of Sonic the Hedgehog, but it also returns Billy Crystal to the sort of comic/dramatic turn that made the Long Beach, N.Y. native famous 40 years ago.
Schwartz plays Scott Rollins, a standup comedian coming to the realization that he took his shot in L.A. only to discover that L.A. couldn’t give a shit. He is a Billy Joel lyric performing warmed over Seinfeld relics at open mics where his punchlines are drowned out by the flushes of toilets. With little to his name but the weight of failure, he drives cross country to the house that made him who he is. His father, Gary (Kevin Dunn), is the sort of reticent, blue collar patriarch required of every Long Island household while his mother, Jeanie (Debra Monk), is a source of endless support and rational cajoling. She’s the type of mother that keeps her son’s room as a perpetual memorial to high school while dropping the casual mention that the post office is hiring. Scott and his younger sister, Megan (Grace Gummer), express their love for each other through an endless battle of wits and insults like proper siblings, completing the hive of functional dysfunction that Scott refuses to investigate in his comedy.
While out drinking with his old friend Murph (Leonard Ouzts), Scott gets a stark view on the anomalousness of his existence. Murph has kids and goes home before 9 p.m. while Scott has nothing but free time. It is a tale of disparate 34-year-olds, but Scott sees that he lives in a world of early risers that have taken on the kind of career and family commitments he has avoided in adulthood. It looks like a lonely future until Crystal’s Marty stumbles into his life. Marty is a drunk, but he is also a dermatologist and Scott has a rash on his forearm. Important friendships have started over lesser things.
As the title suggests, this is a story of two men on separate trajectories. Scott has a chance to recover from his unmet expectations, find his voice and renew his pursuit of comedy or explore another way of being. Marty’s life has been marred by two tragic marriages. He wears the impish mask of a fun drunk but his alcoholism affects his life outside the bar. His attempts to mend his relationships with his two adult children are rebuffed, especially by his son, Adam (Nathan Corddry), who knows his father in ways Scott never will.
To their great credit, writer Peter Hoare and director Matt Ratner avoid pat resolutions to the plight of their characters. They play with themes of nostalgia and regret, the scars that are permanent as opposed to the ones that heal. Most of Scott’s regrets are played for unexpected laughs as he recovers from years and years of self-absorption, but Marty rarely gets that opportunity. He’s caused too much wreckage in his life, and there’s a sense of satisfaction to the doors that slam in his face. It’s Billy Crystal and you want to love him, but we see enough of this character to know that he wants to renew relationships he hasn’t earned back. Even Scott’s triumphant return to the stage is a study in ambiguity, leaving us wondering if we witnessed a rebirth or a swan song.
For those who have lived without the pleasure of knowing Nassau County, this film is as much of a loving portrait of that particular suburbia as you will find. Cinematographer Noah Rosenthal shoots the Island at the perfect time of year for symbolism. It’s cold and grey enough for melancholy, but there’s enough sunshine and greenery around to remind you why you live there. Depending on what kind of life you’ve lived, Standing Up, Falling Down will either inspire you to take another crack at the big dream or help with the healing process of settling down.