English ingénue Imogen Poots is like Teflon. No matter how messy the project around her may be, she remains resilient and radiant. This has been true of underwhelming efforts like That Awkward Moment and Need For Speed, movies where she's proved to be a beaming highlight amid muck. Thankfully, A Long Way Down gives Poots more to do than be the quirky and gorgeous love interest. And flanked by a cast that is lively and talented, she shines brighter than ever before.
Based on the best-selling Nick Hornby novel of the same name, A Long Way Down is a four-hander, sharing the focus between a quartet of strangers who meet by chance on New Year's Eve as they all convene on the same London rooftop to commit suicide. It's a bizarre coincidence, one that not only prevents them from making this fatal leap, but also begins an unlikely friendship that proves a true lifesaver.
This motley crew is made up of a disgraced morning talk show host (Pierce Brosnan), an isolated single mother (Toni Collette), a wannabe rock star (Aaron Paul), and a smart-ass party girl (Imogen Poots). As their shared journey progresses, each is given a portion to detail via voiceover how they came to that rooftop, desperate to end it all. And through their revelations, we see how this foursome who seems so different so needs each other.
Like About A Boy and to a lesser degree High Fidelity, this adaptation of Hornby's work balances comedy and drama, misfits and musings, to create a concoction that is ultimately effervescent and deeply sweet. Screenwriter Jack Thorne efficiently sets up each of its heroes with crackling dialogue, while director Pascal Chaumeil paints an enchanting surrounding with cool colors and an eye toward romance in his production design and whimsical shot compositions. But A Long Way Down's best attribute is its ensemble cast.
As teased up top, Imogen Poots runs away with this movie. For one thing, she's luminously beautiful as the upper-class rager. Ingénues would rightly kill to glow as she does onscreen. But Thorne, Chaumeil and Poots playfully play against her dreamy ingénue niche by giving her character Jess a mouth like a sailor and free-spirited attitude that leads her pretty face to be marred by running mascara and black-eyes. She's a firecracker through and through. And as Jess hashes through the damage of her own life, her volatility is given reason, her character given depth, making her all the more mesmerizing.
Toni Collette is expectedly solid as Maureen, who like the actress's About A Boy character is struggling to make a life for herself apart from her role as a mother. Instead of a neurotic hippie, she's a super square caregiver this time around. While Jess's story is full of big drama moments, Maureen's is more muted. Something to which Collette's established skills are able to bring nuance and life. However, it does feel like a slight waste of an incredibly talented performer to have her play such a mousy woman, whose arc is not especially dramatic. Still, she infuses Maureen with color, making what could have been a sad-sack stereotype into a fleshed out figure who demands audience empathy, not pity.
For his part, Pierce Brosnan is a brilliant asshole. His character Martin is a pompous ass, who has been publicly shamed (and briefly imprisoned) for a one-night-stand with an under-aged girl. (He sneers in defense she looked 25!) Martin's section begins the film, and through his caustic comments and elitist attitude, he seems its most irredeemable suicidal. But Brosnan infuses a lot of fun into this wretch, and his rough edges are soon softened through friction and feelings of his new friends. However, the bitter bite Martin brings to the first act is so quickly cut down that the narrative loses its edge altogether by the third act, becoming almost sickeningly sweet. In retrospect, Martin seems to have been tamed too easily.
Finally, Aaron Paul rounds out this foursome as JJ, the moody American rocker who never made it anywhere close to big. Paul looks the part with his leather jacket, depression beard, and oft-furrowed brow, and he shares an easy chemistry with his co-stars. Yet his performance never really resonates, feeling too vague and ungrounded. This becomes a galling issue in JJ's section, when one plot point in particular hangs on JJ revealing a terrible secret. He still feels an abstraction, so his meant-to-be heartbreaking confession falls flat.
Ultimately, A Long Way Down offers a bumpy journey with some characters dazzling, while others feel dull. It's a tricky thing to weave together four narratives. Still, what Chaumeil lacks in execution, much of his cast makes up in sheer charisma. Overall, the film's flaws are outweighed by its charms. Though it's not as deeply satisfying as About A Boy or High Fidelity, A Long Way Down is undeniably bubbly, heartwarming and funny.