Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 22, 2019 2:45 pm 
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Two comics walk into a bar. . .

"I was smoking weed with my dermatologist. . ." The lead in Standing Up, Falling Down (a too-graphic title) uses his real life for comedy and is fed the possibility of that line by new circumstance. He acquires a dermatologist, with whom he almost immediately smokes weed.

Clowns in drama are usually sad and here you have two of them. No matter that Billy Crystal plays Marty, an alcoholic dermatologist in east Long Island. To us he's still a comic, the more famous one. He plays opposite Ben Schwartz, also a comic who has played many small roles in TV and film. Is this perhaps Schwartz's best, biggest one? He's loose, appealing, and smart as Scott, an aspiring comedian who has run out of money after four years in Los Angeles attempting to succeed at standup. He is back home in his old bedroom at loose ends, living with his mother (Debra Monk), his distant businessman dad (Kevin Dunn) and his scoffing adult sister Megan (Grace Gummer). His is 34 and unemployed. His sister is 30, working in a pretzel shop, and dating a security guard. Scott goes for a drink at a bar and the drunken man in a fedora he meets in the men's room peeing into the sink, Marty (Billy Crystal) turns out to be a dermatologist. Scott sees Marty in his office for his arm rash, which turns out to be due to stress. He gets some free cream because he can't afford to pay for meds, and they become pals, getting high together.

This fills a need for both of them. Marty is lonely and alcoholic. His duties don't seem very demanding. He hasn't always been this way; it happened with the decline of his clinically depressed second wife; both wives died. See what I mean about clowns being sad? He'd like to fight his way back. He and Scott hit it off. Scott is stressed (hence the rash) and awkward and disappointed with himself. It's hard facing the old place, the old people. Marty is good company, an inspired drinking partner. But Scott discovers that "34-year-old hangovers feel like brain cancer."

We've briefly seen Scott performing, before his return home. He's loose, smart, entertaining, and real. We see him doing standup again briefly at Governors of Levittown. Again he's funny and real. All his humor this second time comes from the events we have just seen. It's like a review of the action so far, recast as humor. Nice. He is good playing off the mike. Most of the time everyone else is somehow playing off him.

Does Billy Crystal get to do standup? Obviously not. But let's just say Marty's quick on his feet. And while he's a drunk, he has some wisdom to offer to Scott. One nugget that's underlined: "Regret's the only thing that's real." Crystal deserves credit for being good every moment without ever hogging the screen or playing Marty like a comedy routine. Marty's an amusing drunk, good company to some (not the barman, who's sick of him), but when he goes home, very alone.

The setup has nowhere to go but down or nowhere at all, because it refuses any schmaltzy bright new dawns for either of the two men. Even seeming successes, like Scott's appearance at Governor's, seem to fall flat. The fact that the flame still burns for him with his beautiful ex, Becky (Eloise Mumford), is just trouble, since she's happily married, or at least her jocky husband Owen (John Behlmann) thinks so. Mabye there are a few too characters, and some, like large local comic Murph (Leonard Ouzts), barely get a line or two. Nonetheless the main secondary characters, Scott's sister, her "awesome" boyfriend Ruis (David Castañeda), his annoying but caring mom (Debra Monk);, Marty's buddies at the bar, his unforgiving son Adam (Nate Corddry), his daughter (Caitlin McGee), even Scott's indifferent dad, are all made three-dimensional thanks to good casting, Peter Hoare's writing, and first-timer Matt Rattner's direction.

There are good scenes, some funny, some not. The meet-cute in the men's room is the first. Another comes when Marty and Scott are stoned in his "Snoop Dog" Seventies Caddy and Ruis, the sister's security guard boyfriend they've only heard about, comes up playing like a cop and scares them to death. Probably all of this is cliché, including the funeral taken over by the recent friend who delivers the most touching elegy. But Cristal and Schwartz are fun to watch, and this is a calling card for Matt Rattner.

Standing Up, Falling Down, 91 mins., debuted at Tribeca Apr. 25, 2019. It has been screened for this review as part of the SFJFF.
SFJFF showtimes:
Thursday July 25, 2019 6:00 p.m. CineArts
Saturday July 27, 2019 6:05 p.m. Castro Theatre
Sunday July 28, 2019 3:25 p.m. Albany Twin
Saturday August 3, 2019 6:25 p.m. Smith Rafael

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