Standing Up, Falling Down

 

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A comedian discovers that his dermatologist is funnier than he is.

   
Standing Up, Falling Down

Stand-up guys: Billy Crystal and Ben Schwartz

 

It’s been eighteen years since Billy Crystal made any significant impact on our screens. For a while, he was most famous for hosting the Oscars, although today’s generation will probably know him from re-runs of his comedy classic, When Harry Met Sally... (1989). But at 72 he’s still a funny guy and seeing him headline this low-key comedy is like visiting an old friend. His eyes still sparkle and even now he can hit a one-liner out of the park. And that’s the problem. In spite of his billing – and his credit as executive producer – this is not Billy Crystal’s film. The main character, Scott Rollins, is played by Ben Schwartz, who most recently voiced the title role of Sonic the Hedgehog. He plays a stand-up comic here who, having failed to make his mark in L.A., returns to his home town on Long Island, moving back in with his parents (Kevin Dunn and Debra Monk). But Scott is not a funny man – and he’s also a coward and a liar.

 

There is probably room for a comedy about a comedian who is surrounded by people funnier than he is, but this is not it. As his sister Megan, Grace Gummer nails her comic timing to the letter, while Leonard Ouzts as an outsize childhood friend (with three children and a trophy wife) is a hoot. And then there’s Billy Crystal. As Marty, a twice-widowed dermatologist too fond of the bottle, he is at once a barrel of laughs and a bottomless tumbler of remorse. “Regret is the only thing that’s real,” he tells Scott. Yet, against the odds, the old man and the young comic keep on bumping into each other, and after they both gate-crash a funeral, they become firm friends. Scott obviously has a lot to learn from this adventurer who, in spite of his losses, takes life by the scruff of the neck.

 

Beneath the repartee, there is an enormous sadness, both for Marty and for Scott. When Scott returns home for the first time in four years, his father doesn’t even turn off the TV. He proffers his hand, and then turns back to the screen. And Megan is hardly more welcoming. In a moment of familial affection, she says, “I love you – I guess.” Then, after seeing one of his shows, she tells him: “You were really, really mediocre.” But Scott’s father takes the biscuit. “You’re no Brad Garrett,” he tells Scott. “Why don’t you go and tell your jokes in an office. Be a funny mailman.”

 

To make a comedy about a mediocre comic is a hard act to pull off; even more so when he is such a self-pitying loser. A story of second chances and unlikely friendships, Standing Up, Falling Down falters in mid-act as if sniffing the air before deciding to call it a day. The film is worth watching because there are some genuinely funny lines and the cast is uniformly first-rate. It’s only Ben Schwartz, and the shmuck he’s been asked to play, that leaves a gaping hole in the middle of it all.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Billy Crystal, Ben Schwartz, Eloise Mumford, Grace Gummer, Nate Corddry, Jill Hennessy, Caitlin McGee, David Castañeda, Leonard Ouzts, John Behlmann, Debra Monk, Kevin Dunn, Michael Kostroff.

 

Dir Matt Ratner, Pro Chris Mangano, Matt Ratner, Rick Rosenthal, John Hermann and Gabrielle Nadig, Ex Pro Billy Crystal, Screenplay Peter Hoare, Ph Noah M. Rosenthal, Pro Des Michael Fitzgerald, Ed Shayar Bhansali, Music David Schwartz, Costumes Maria Kenny.

 

Tilted Windmill Productions/Mangano Movies & Media/Whitewater Films/Face Productions-Signature Entertainment.

87 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 30 March 2020. Available on UK digital platformsCert. 15.