What’s funnier than suicide? Well most things are, to be honest. That thought occurred to me about two minutes into A Long Way Down, the slight -- and on occasion -- slightly repulsive new comedy drama starring Pierce Brosnan.
Based on the novel by Nick Hornby (author of the smash hit About a Boy) A Long Way Down has Brosnan starring as beleaguered Martin, an afternoon TV anchor whose life and career have come crashing after his conviction for sex with a minor (she was 15; he swears he thought she was 25).
Now Martin’s marriage is over and his life is in tatters, leaving him to pick one of the highest buildings in London to throw himself off on a snowy New Years Eve.
But before he can say goodbye to this cruel world he’s joined on the wintry rooftop by the duffle coat wearing Maureen (Toni Collette), one of life’s more obvious doormats.
The pair converse about what they’re doing and even argue over who should have the first turn when, wouldn’t you know it, here’s Jess (Imogen Poots) a suicidal young Sloane Ranger who barely gets to speak before they’re all joined by yet another lost soul, this time a black leather jacket wearing American called JJ (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul).
From the start each conversation between the despairing foursome is so curt and crafted that it’s as if they had rehearsed it off screen for days. That gives the film a theatrical quality that makes the characters seem less real and relatable.
Jess in particular seems less like a person and more like a collection of freewheeling putdowns delivered in a upper class drawl that echoes Audrey Hepburn but misses all her vulnerability and charm.
But the circumstances of A Long Way Down are even more contrived than the overly stagey dialogue (written by Jack Thorne, from Hornby’s bestselling novel).
The four manage to talk each other down off the ledge and soon they are (with Martin’s show business knowhow) celebrated minor TV celebrities. What seals their budding friendship is the pact they make not to kill themselves before Valentines Day, February 14.
To add to that and give themselves an identity they soon are being refereed to as the Toppers House Four (a glib London reference to the high rise building where they met, a favorite spot for the suicidal).
Now tied by their pact, the four find themselves developing friendships. In particular they are curious to discover each other’s motives for ending their lives. This leads to some of the most risible dialogue, again given to Jess to deliver.
It’s almost inevitable that anyone who has ever had someone they love commit suicide will likely find themselves staring at the screen in slack jawed surprise at this film. A Long Way Down does not go out of its way to offend, but its tone alternates between drama and comedy so handily that it can often be hard to locate its merits or its intent.
Depression and despair have in the past proved fertile ground for comedy. From the plays of Samuel Beckett to the early work of Woody Allen, we know that unhappiness can be unspeakably funny.
But it requires a rare degree of sensitivity and a clarity of purpose to turn a film about being suicidal into a light hearted romantic romp, and in this regard A Long Way Down should have been titled A Long Way to Go.
Brosnan’s own career trajectory has seen him moving from playing the humorless quasi sociopaths like James Bond that made his career. Instead in recent years he has gravitated toward altogether more human characters like Meryl Streep’s paramour in Mamma Mia with delightful results.
In A Long Way Down Martin’s martial strife is resolved off camera in the final edit, leaving him and the audience to wonder why on earth he did to get so lucky after such a humiliating fall?
We are not really told what cured his despair or mended his suicidal impulses. We are just asked to accept they have come to an end.
What remains is a gifted cast being herded toward an increasingly unconvincing final act, which is neither believable nor likely, a reflection of the film itself.
A Long Way Down opens July 11.