From “High Fidelity” and “Fever Pitch”, the two Americanized adaptations of his work with John Cusack and Jimmy Fallon respectively, to “About a Boy”, with Hugh Grant, and “An Education” with Carey Mulligan, both of which stayed true to their British roots, I have enjoyed them all.
“A Long Way Down,” is the latest Hornby novel adapted to film, which also remains true to its British origin. It stars Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogene Poots, and Aaron Paul as four lost souls who accidentally meet on New Year’s Eve atop of a high-rise building in London to attempt suicide. Instead of making good on their goal — they want privacy for the big leap — they make a pact to meet again on Valentine’s Day at the same spot to give it another go. It’s only another six weeks, after all, and during that time they form sort of a surrogate family, and the story unfolds.
Suicide is a difficult subject matter for a comedy, no matter how dark you label it. Screenwriter Jack Thorne pulls it off with a good scene now and then, but more often the story falls flat and is predictable.
Even the characters seem cliché, which is a rarity for Hornby. Brosnan plays a former TV journalist who was imprisoned because of a sexual encounter with an underage girl (he believed she was 25). Collette’s character, a single mother of a handicapped son, wants to escape her lonely and routine life, and Poots’ character wants to make the jump because her boyfriend just dumped her. Rounding off the four, Paul, who plays an American musician, wants to escape his brain cancer diagnosis. As the story goes on, we learn that these problems only scratch the surface of each of their situations.
I did not hate the film – there were some nice moments especially between the characters played by Poots and Paul – but I did not like it as much as I expected. It is easily falls last on my list of adaptations from the Hornby collection. I thought perhaps that the story played out better in novel form, as so many do, but while the film has its share of critics who panned it, so does the novel.
Another theory for my dislike may be that I was affected by other film reviews. Dan the Man’s review may have affected me the most since his first line grabbed me and remained in my brain while I watched. He wrote, “If I ever have to be stuck in the same room as these people, remind me to just kill myself right then and there.”
While I liked the film a little more than Dan, due to the talented cast and a few scenes that saved it for me, I generally agree with his assessment.
The cast, believable in their roles, breathed all they could into them, yet they could not save the film completely. Brosnan, as the disgraced journalist, delivered his performance with the right amount of sarcasm, Poots was the ideal depressed young girl who self medicates with alcohol, pills, and her sharp tongue, and Paul, of “Breaking Bad” fame could not have played the role better. It was Collette’s role as the single mom that left me scratching my head. She gave a quality performance as usual, but as a mom, I did not understand how she could consider killing herself, knowing it would leave her dependent son with no one to care for him. Thankfully, they addressed that issue towards the end of the film and I stopped screaming in my head.
I recommend you take a chance on this one, when it is available on Netflix or cable and you don’t have to pay extra for it. You may find some redeeming qualities. Still, the movie to beat this summer clearly remains “A Hard Day’s Night”, which definitely gives you more laughs and entertainment for your buck.
Hornby’s next novel to make it to the big screen is “Wild”, which stars Reese Witherspoon, and is scheduled for release early next year. Let’s hope for redemption.