Standing Up, Falling Down REVIEW – A Thoughtful Comedy

Features career-best performances from Crystal and Schwartz.

Standing Up Falling Down
Standing Up Falling Down

Comedy is the often unsung hero of movies. Everything from the biggest blockbusters like the Avengers films to the latest Academy Award Best Picture winner Parasite rely on humor to balance their stories and to make their characters feel more real. But the days of big studio comedies seem to be over, with many filmmakers and actors complaining that it’s too hard to be funny without offending anyone nowadays.

This is obviously not the least bit true, and Standing Up, Falling Down is a prime example of that. Director Matt Ratner and writer Peter Hoare understand that good comedy comes naturally; from conversation and observation rather than forcing outrageous situations. The film stars Billy Crystal and Ben Schwartz – two big comedic personalities – but rather than have them do their respective shticks (which still could’ve made for a passable movie), Ratner channels that energy into something more real and subdued. As a result, both actors have never been better.

Standing Up, Falling Down finds two men, Scott (Schwartz) and Marty (Crystal) who are currently at a spiritual loss. We first see Scott performing a standup routine of one-liners and non sequiturs. He is clearly no Mitch Hedberg, however. The jokes fail to elicit laughs from anyone, and a wider shot of the “venue” reveals it to be a small café. A man returning from the bathroom has to nudge his way past Scott and his microphone. Clearly, Scott’s road to happiness has been littered with potholes.

Instead of going all Joker on everyone, Scott reluctantly returns home to the life he left behind. He quickly finds that settling back in won’t be easy. His sister, Megan (Grace Gummer), still lives with their parents but now has a steady job and a serious boyfriend. His friends have all grown up and started families. Becky (Eloise Mumford), the woman Scott was dating before he left, has gotten married and is living a comfortable life. The failed comedian is directionless, refusing his parents’ suggestions to get a regular job. Worse, he’s lonely, unable to adjust to this life that has seemingly passed him by.

This brings him to Marty, an alcoholic dermatologist who’s relieving himself in a sink the first time Scott meets him. Marty may seem obnoxious at first glance, but Scott is enthralled by the older man’s wit, and the two form an unlikely friendship. It becomes obvious that the pair need each other. They’re both at pivotal points in their lives, and the film’s leisurely pace allows for their bond – which helps these two grow, learn from, and inspire each other- to take shape gradually and naturally. The father / son dynamic is obvious – Scott has a tense relationship with his own father (the criminally underrated Kevin Dunn), and Marty’s son (Nate Corddry) refuses to answer his dad’s numerous calls and messages.

Marty is full of little nuggets of wisdom, but one observation of his lays out the entire film’s pathos: “Regret is the only thing that’s real.” Both of these characters are full of regrets (aren’t we all?), and Standing Up, Falling Down explores how people deal with them. Regret can paralyze you or send you down a self-destructive path. Scott, still thinking he’s in a love story, seems selfishly willing to upend Becky’s stable life in order to try and fix his mistake of leaving her years ago. Marty drowns himself in booze every night to cope with tragic loss and estranged relationships with his children. Hoare’s wonderful script seems to suggest that we can mope and say “I regret this, I regret that” all day, but the thing we’ll regret the most is not making an attempt to fix those things. “Can’t someone unfuck something?” Scott wishes at one point.

The film is certainly contemplative, and gives no easy answers, but the best comedy often comes from darker places. Standing Up, Falling Down, with its two lead talents and a terrific supporting cast around them, is very funny without ever trying too hard to be. Jokes range from comments about glory holes, to just how white someone can be (“I spent an hour downloading NPR podcasts in a Jamba Juice” Scott admits), to getting high at a funeral. A scene where Marty fruitlessly leaves voice messages for his son will make you chuckle and break your heart- a reminder of just how damn great of an actor Billy Crystal can be – and a third act shock instantly takes the film from good to great.

Ratner has made a very strong directorial debut here. He’s crafted a film that, besides being one of the most solid comedies in recent memory, feels real and universal. Standing Up, Falling Down is a story about regrets, how we can make good on them, and carve out our own definition of happiness. There’s a painful yet optimistic balance between the light that humor brings and the dark that despair revels in, and it’s worth exploring here.

Review screener provided by PR. Check out the rest of our movie reviews here.

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Standing Up Falling Down
Standing Up, Falling Down is a thoughtful comedy about regrets that features career-best performances from its two leads.