The 2005 New York Times review of Nick Hornby’s novel “A Long Way Down” described a scene in which Martin, a morning TV show presenter whose career has been derailed due to a sexual escapade with a 15-year-old girl, is stopped from jumping off a tall London building by Maureen, a suicidal single-mother caring for a severely handicapped son. The Times quotes their brief conversation, Maureen first:
“ ‘I’ll wait until...Well, I’ll wait.’
“ ‘So you’re just going to stand there and watch?’
“ ‘No. Of course not. You’ll be wanting to do it on your own, I’d imagine.’
“ ‘You’d imagine right.’
“ ‘I’ll go over there.’ She gestured to the other side of the roof.
“ ‘I’ll give you a shout on the way down.’”
And then the reviewer writes, “You can imagine this scene getting a good, uneasy laugh if they ever make the movie.” Well, they have made the movie now, and he was half-right at least -- it does get an uneasy laugh, though I’m not sure I’d describe it as good.
In Pascal Chaumier’s adaption of "A Long Way Down,” Martin is played by Pierce Brosnan and Maureen by Toni Collette. While they are discussing Martin’s fate, more or less, they are joined by another potential suicide, a young woman named Jess (Imogen Poots), and then J.J., an American played by Aaron Paul. It is New Year’s Eve and each of them has gone there to put an end to their own story, prematurely as it turns out. Before you can say ‘Jumping Jehoshaphat!’ they are back on the ground -- they take the elevator down -- signing a pact promising to stay alive at least until Valentine’s Day, six weeks off. Then, in a move made plausible in a novel but less so in a movie (or this one at any rate), they become improbable friends, helping each other through their various problems.
In the press conference, Hornby noted that beyond the opening scene, his book is not an easy one to adapt, written as it is in diary form (times four). Perhaps that’s why it took nearly 10 years to get made. In any case, the film has some nice dialogue, and some witty and non-witty observations about life and its meanings and failings. But in the end the film lives and dies with the ensemble, and what’s done with them.
Hornby alum Colette (“About a Boy”) is, as always, excellent and believable and moving. Brosnan is blustery and wry and, well, Pierce Brosnan (read: pluses and minuses). Poots is an adorable live wire who would have been better off turning down the voltage. As for Aaron Paul, perhaps his presence was a mistake so closely on the heels of “Breaking Bad” -- you simply can’t get Jesse Pinkman out of your head, though he is his usual fine, bad-assed self. (Word is that Emile Hirsch was originally cast but dropped out due to scheduling problems.) Meanwhile, the ever-delightful Rosamund Pike is wasted in a forgettable role, as is Sam Neill.
As for what you do with this group of actors, that comes down to Chaumier, a career-long television director in France and Germany with a number of assistant-director credits, for Luc Besson among others. I’m not sure how he came to this particular project, but he seems an odd choice, given the risky material. Whatever the case, or the cause, his charming ensemble parts don’t add up to much -- not, at any rate, as much as you wish them to. Sometimes engaging, mildly amusing, “A Long Way Down” never feels what its characters need to feel -- special.