The last thing anyone ever wants is a rant about how a book you haven’t read was sooooo much better than its movie. Books are almost always better than their movie adaptations, so that’s not news to anyone. And movie adaptations really should be watched as their own stand-alone entities, separate from their source material. But once in a while a film bungling comes about that is so terrible, it makes you wonder if anyone who worked on the movie has ever actually read a book, let alone the one the movie is based on. (Time Traveler’s Wife, I’m looking in your direction.) So let me get this out of the way, and then we’ll move on, okay? THEY F*CKING RUINED IT! A Long Way Down is one of Nick Hornby’s mid-level books. It’s not his best (High Fidelity), but it’s certainly no How to Be Good. It’s an interesting story rotating through the points of view of four messed up people struggling with depression and sometimes insurmountable challenges who develop complicated, unique relationships that lazy filmmakers felt they had to simplify down to ‘unlikely friendships’ and love interests. In fact, every event, every feeling, every motivation from the book has been beaten into tender tripe and distilled it to its most superficial inch-deep form.
A Long Way Down is the story of four suicidal misfits (Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, and Aaron Paul) who meet at the meet one New Year’s Eve at the top of a London building they’ve all decided to throw themselves off of. With the unexpected company, finding the moment lost, they agree to form a sort of pact and not attempt to kill themselves until Valentine’s Day because… well, I’m sure there are reasons but it comes out as a lackluster “Eh, why not?” When the press picks up their story, they’re forced to band together because… well, again, reasons. Good ones, probably, if they could only manage to hint at them in the slightest. They try to exploit their new fame for cash with stories of naked Matt Damon doppelganging angels, and when that doesn’t work, they run off together on a Spanish holiday that is important or transformative to exactly no one. But cue nonsensical scenes of bonding… Following that, there are “events” that happen, with no real linking or motivation or character development, in a jumbled mess that one might, with enough squinting and justifying, be able to manipulate into some sort of warped funhouse version of a “plot.”
Again, I don’t want to compare the movie to the book, but the movie is such a watery slop of nothing, that I don’t know what other choice there is. So I’ll just say that by dividing the movie into quarters (as opposed to rotating chapters), each taking on a different character’s unnecessary voiceover narration, it ensures that none of the characters have the chance to fully stick. Hell, you’re practically done with the movie before Toni Collette gets a chance to speak. But if you’re worried that this means she’ll be underdeveloped and bland, don’t worry because they’re ALL underdeveloped and bland! The only character that even scratches the surface of interesting is Imogen Poots’ twitchy, neurotic Jess. Then again, the entire point of Jess (at least book Jess) is that you don’t know if there’s anything beneath her surface layer of crazy. And I guess Aaron Paul’s J.J. is similar enough to Jesse Pinkman that you can pretend there’s some sort of backstory to his character, even if it’s borrowed from Breaking Bad. The writer and director of A Long Way Down (Jack Thorne and Pascal Chaumeil, respectively) are short on film credits, and I hope to hell it stays that way. Because while it feels soulless to wish someone’s career to end, it’s an insult to your audience and your profession as a whole when you can take THIS cast and THIS source material and watch them slowly swirl around this low-flush toilet of mediocrity. It could almost be considered a skill, this extreme blandening, but even their failure is underwhelming.
A Long Way Down is available on VOD and in a few theaters, but not few enough.
Vivian Kane can be found watching ‘About a Boy’ and ‘High Fidelity’ on a cleansing loop for the next few days.