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KYLE MARVIN AND GAYLE RANKIN IN THE CLIMB

Virtuoso film about a bad bromance

A triumphant American toxic bromance comedy, The Climb is studded with chuckles and wows. It understandably won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes last year. The French should have liked it - besides being so good reviewers keep calling it "brilliant," it's dotted throughout with references to France and French culture. It's made up of intricate long takes to delight the cinephile. It revels in the complicated game of making a movie. At 94 minutes, it's admirably succinct. No wonder it was included in other big international festivals. It's fun, but also tailor-made for lovingly close study in film classes. It heralds the start of a distinguished career for Covino and maybe his chief collaborator here, real-life BFF Kyle Marvin, who co-wrote and costars as Kyle, Covino playing Kyle's toxic BFF, beloved yet a sort of unshakable parasite in his up-and-down life.

Notably, at the beginning and near the end are sequences where Mike announces he's slept with the woman Kyle is about to marry. The first signal and symbolic long sequence (lensed as they all are by deft dp Zach Kuperstein), titled 1 I'M SORRY, unreels in summer on a hilly winding road in the south of France. Mike is leading Kyle on a long bike ride, mostly uphill, while they talk. Indeed, this relationship is an uphill battle. Mike, a cycling enthusiast, is fit. Kyle is overweight and wheezing behind. Kyle is at a disadvantage in other ways. He is about to marry a French woman named Ava (Judith Godrèche), but at a certain moment Mike confesses he has slept with Ava, has been sleeping with her all along. The whole bike ride has been to tell Kyle this, going uphill so Mike is in control, and can coach Kyle on his "cadence." Kyle says "I'll kill you!" but he can't.

The next long take is at a French hospital: Mike was beaten up by some Frenchmen he insulted during the cycle ride. Ava, now present, beautiful and svelte, talks to Mike, with Kyle wandering around in the background. The sequence is a hint of ones to come, skillfully juggling rooms and people. Ava tells Mike their relationship never mattered, yet when he moves to kiss her, she responds. Kyle sees, and is furious.

Jump to 2 LET GO and a hilarious cemetery sequence whose humor makes I'M SORRY grow funnier in retrospect. Mike, it appears, has been married to Ava for a while - her wedding to Kyle didn't happen - but she has suddenly died. This time it's the bereaved Mike who loses it, to comic effect; Kyle intervenes to prevent a total fracas. This is the first example of a Covino thing: complicated scenes full of people who the principals ignore, while having a shout-fest or knockdown fight as if the others weren't even there. Transition: cue close harmony a cappella rendition by cemetery workers of "I shall not be moved."

Maybe Michael-Kyle are a vaudevillian duo à la Beckett, two dominant-submission losers who switch roles while stumbling on. By the next sequence 3 THANKS anyway, role reversal has definitely taken place. Kyle has lost weight and is fit and happy and Michael has become a potbellied alcoholic mess. THANKS announces a full-on Thanksgiving sequence, with a hop forward to Christmas. Both offer excellent opportunities, confidently seized, for virtuoso companion-piece collective scenes. What's come before has been great and satisfyingly accomplished and fun, but is bettered by these Thanksgiving and Christmas scenes, both, again, in long single takes.

Wouldn't we begin Thanksgiving Day in the basement? Of course we would! Down there, the new winner-Kyle is with his high school girlfriend Marissa (Gayle Rankin) whom his mom Suzi (Talia Balsam), upstairs, doesn't seem to like. Marissa gives Kyle an intensive in saying "NO!" tailored for rejecting mom's control. This goes for dad Jim (George Wendt) too. The "yes" is that Kyle announces he and Marissa are getting married, after the "No" lesson has turned them both on and led to making out. Upstairs, meanwhile ("Is something wrong down there?" asks mom), the movie delights in weaving in an out of holiday disasters, to the turkey here, shortly after to the Christmas tree. In between the camera flows out of the house over into a car where the now alcoholic and overweight Michael sits, in darkness, seamlessly linking the two episodes.

All that, from bike ride to holiday drunk, happens in the first 30 minutes, perhaps the compactness related to The Climb's development out of a collaborative Marvin-Covino short film. While sometimes the feel of this material is like Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, it's more economical.

Thus the whole new Mike situation is described in seconds as, in the dark car, he rapidly guzzles a bottle of booze and burps, undresses down to his wife-beater, cleans up with a shapeless pullover and goes to the house for the Christmas party. He's sent for an armful of firewood, which he drops in the basement, pouring, drunk, over faded mementos of his own history as a high school football star with no real family other than Kyle's. Pathetically, he dons an old helmet, then crashes into the upstairs under the Christmas tree, as family and guests gather round.

Dialogue can be epigrammatic, but scene atmosphere sometimes has the vernacular feel of HBO's "High Maintenance," like the moment where guests admire a TV ad Kyle penned for female Viagra. Kyle was against his mom's inviting Mike. Someone gives Mike a cigarette and lights it for him. No words are spoken, an eloquent declaration of Mike's dubious status here. An exchange between Mike and Suzi: "How are things?" "Great," says Mike. "What's great?" "Peaky Blinders." "what else?" "That's about it."

Scene shifts are aided by music, like Gary Stewart's honky-tonk dirge "I've got this drinkin' thing/to keep from thinkin' things" over Mike's booze-guzzling in the car, and a dance-like ski-park sequence introducing 4 IT'S BROKE where Mike is back in Kyle's life, causing him to drink more. He's upstairs bouncing naked on the bed, but before he can have great sex with Marissa, he passes out. This is the third big holiday, New Year's Eve. Mike ruins it further downstairs by himself banging on pots and pans to announce midnight. Of course Mike tries to make it with Marissa next day and she eggs him on, saying this won't alienate Kyle from her, but from Michael, and get rid of him.

5 STOP IT: Now comes a well conceived sequence of Kyle's bachelor party prior to his wedding to Marissa, with a kidnapping, ice fishing, and a near-drowning. Mike is more toxic than ever, yet the BFF relation indelibly survives. This ends with three exotic musicians on the ice, violin, accordion, and guitarist-singer doing a hearty Russian song - transplanted to upstate New York. Another musical transition, this, to a new chapter, 6 GROW UP. This is a francophile cinematic homage and portrait of Mike's loneliness. On the street of a small town, Mike leaves a wistful phone message inviting Kyle to a movie to celebrate his birthday. He enters Quirino's Crandell Cinema, in Chatham, New York, where "a French Film Retrospective" is going on. Outside is a poster for César et Rosalie, a Claude Sautet film about two men competing for the same woman. Mike talks his way in, unable to prove it's his birthday for the free entree because he has no photo ID. There he sits pensive, the camera and light angle showing his face gaunt, pock marks visible. The film isn't César et Rosalie - that was a teaser - but Le grand amour by the more obscure Pierre Étaix.

This leads to a virtuoso transition when the camera goes up to the screen, seemingly to show the film switched to technicolor: but it is Kyle at the altar with Marissa, for their wedding. Sisters Bianca (Eden Malyn) and Dani (Daniella Covino) come up for readings. (Scholars may comment on their content!) It's a large, modern church with spectacular high stained glass windows. The camera backs up and exits, slipping out the church door showing its name, "Our Lady of Life." Behind, as yet unseen, a car roars up, the brakes screeching. It's Mike, in wedding attire, late. The music playing now is Isabelle Pierre's "Les enfants de l'avenir se feront l'amour à l'infini."

MIke rushes into the church, down the isle to "object." He has already claimed Marissa isn't good enough for Kyle. As at the cemetery, a violent encounter takes place followed by an intense dialogue with the wedding guests around, a tableau of spectators. After Mike's disturbance of the ceremony, despite Marissa and Kyle's declaring their desire to wed, and Marissa's dramatic, "I'm pregnant! I'm getting married!", the minister refuses to complete the ceremony, saying they must think it over - and come back, after the child is born.

The next scene shows Mike doing better: he's running a bike shop called Vélo Domestique, which also has an espresso bar. He serves Marissa, but her aim is to get Mike to come in to retrieve her credit card, a pretext to reunite Mike with Kyle. She has reversed now, and wants them together again. This time the camera pan to a car leads to Kyle - playing with his and Marissa's happy baby boy.

Is this just like life, the back and forth and up and down? But the unique tragicomic twist is how Kyle, the weak, good guy, self destructively cleaves to Mike, the tough admitted asshole. And there is more: a final section with the ambiguous moniker, 7 FINE. I recommend you watch it, and all this remarkable movie.

Not every minute of The Climb works. The two men's voices are too alike. The contrivances are delightful but so self-conscious they shrivel the emotional impact to a slither of ornamental touches. But it's a special and continual pleasure to savor the glissando takes, the ingenious scene liaisons, the funny-awful twists and turns of Kyle-Mike, the varied musical linking interludes. And the loving French touches, which declare this to be not only raucous nuttiness, highly wrought technique, but no mere Sundance indie special. There are two more French songs to come before it's all over: one Sinatra sang to signal a breakup originally by Gilbert Bécaud and Pierre Delaroe, with a background of Ravel's "Bolero," then, as an envoi, Bécaud with Mac David, "With your eyes you smile hello, gracias addios." Much to think about, much to rewatch and rethink here, much to admire and much to enjoy.

The Climb, 94 mins., debuted at Cannes in Un Certain Regard May 2019 and won the Jury Prize. It subsequently showed in 15 international festivals including Munich, Telluride, Toronto, Deauville and Vienna. It was scheduled for release March 20, 2020 but due to the coronavirus outbreak the US release gas been repeatedly delayed, now set for November 13, 2020. Its [url="https://www.metacritic.com/movie/the-climb"]Metascore[/url] is 82%. Released in France July 29, 2020 (AlloCiné press rating 3.9 out of 5 [78%]).

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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