2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Standing Up, Falling Down’

April 30, 2019

by Carla Hay

Ben Schwartz and Billy Crystal in “Standing Up, Falling Down” (Photo by Noah M. Rosenthal)

“Standing Up, Falling Down”

Directed by Matt Ratner

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 25, 2019.

The dramedy “Standing Up, Falling Down” is an emotionally touching movie about people with regrets who are trying to fix broken relationships and past mistakes. The story’s two central characters are a struggling stand-up comedian named Scott Rollins (played by Ben Schwartz) and a hard-drinking dermatologist named Marty (played by Billy Crystal), who meet by chance in a bar on Long Island, New York, and strike up an unlikely friendship.

Scott, who is 34 and single, has recently moved back to his Long Island hometown after failing to have his career take off in Los Angeles. In a further blow to his confidence, he’s so financially strapped that he’s had to move back in with his parents, where his slacker younger sister Megan (played by Grace Gummer) also lives. Megan is less ambitious than Scott (she works at a low-paying retail job), so living with her parents doesn’t bother her as much as it does Scott.

When he meets Marty at a local bar, Scott is feeling down on his luck and sorry for himself. Marty, who is at or near retirement age, loves to do karaoke at bars and seems to have an infectious zest for life, and he gets Scott’s attention with his sarcastic sense of humor. Scott and Marty end up talking and drinking together, and it isn’t long before Marty offers to become Scott’s dermatologist. Despite their age difference, the two men become close friends, and they bond over telling wisecracking jokes. As they get to know each other, they realize that underneath the humor, they are actually two very lonely people who are disappointed with how their lives are going.

Marty is a widower who lives alone and is still grieving over the loss of his second wife. Scott is still pining for his ex-girlfriend Becky (played by Eloise Mumford), whom he had abruptly dumped when he decided to move to Los Angeles. Becky is now married to one of their mutual friends, an entertainment attorney named Owen (played by John Behlmann), who is very nice but also very dull.

When Scott and Becky run into each other by chance, and she finds out that he’s moved back to the area, Scott feels that there might still be some romantic sparks between them. He senses that Becky is not happy in her marriage, so he contemplates trying to win her back. Scott tells Marty his opinion on correcting past mistakes: “I personally think you can un-fuck something [up].”

Meanwhile, Scott’s parents Jeanie (played by Debra Monk) and Gary (played by Kevin Dunn) have different reactions to Scott moving back in with them. Jeanie is happy to dote on him like he’s still a child (something that Scott starts to resent), while Gary is a lot less patient about Scott’s career choice, and isn’t afraid to tell Scott that he should get a “real” job. As Gary tells Scott, “Why don’t you tell jokes in the office? Be that guy—the funny mailman.”

Later in the movie, when Scott randomly sees a mailman on the street, he asks the guy if he’s happy in his job. The answer might surprise people. It’s an example of “Standing Up, Falling Down” screenwriter Peter Hoare’s knack for authentic dialogue with just enough flecks of humor that the movie doesn’t veer too much into broad comedy. The only slightly false note in the movie is a sitcom-ish scene involving how Scott and Owen deal with the love-triangle issue. But it’s only a small part of the movie, which is largely about Scott and Marty’s relationship.

As the movie goes on, it’s revealed that Marty’s happy-go-lucky drunk persona masks much more serious issues. He’s a longtime, hardcore alcoholic who’s prone to dark moods and dangerous blackouts. He’s also harboring a lot of guilt over being estranged from his two adult children from his first marriage: Adam (played by Nate Corddry) and Vanessa (played by Caitlin McGee). What happened to his first marriage is revealed in the movie, and it explains why Marty doesn’t have any close family members in his support system.  On a deeper psychological level, Marty and Scott feeling inadequate and uneasy about certain aspects of their lives explains why they have become fast friends: Marty has a rocky relationship with his son, and Scott’s relationship with his father is also tense, so Marty and Scott have essentially formed a surrogate father-and-son relationship.

“Standing Up Falling Down” is director Matt Ratner’s first feature film. He makes great use of locations to show Scott’s frustration at moving back to his hometown and feeling like a failure. Everywhere Scott goes—whether it’s a local shopping mall or a comedy club where he first got his start—reminds him of a more idealistic time when he thought he was going to make it big as a comedian. The pacing of the movie also works well—just don’t expect this film’s main characters to careen from one minor catastrophe to another, such as in the type of comedies that Will Ferrell or Kevin Hart does. This story is very much told from a more realistic adult perspective.

Make no mistake—“Standing Up, Falling Down” is not a groundbreaking film or an Oscar-caliber movie. The parts in the film that are meant to be tear-jerking moments have the subtlety of a hammer, but the well-cast ensemble’s performances (not surprisingly, Crystal is the standout) make the movie appealing to watch overall.

UPDATE: Shout! Studios will release “Standing Up, Falling Down” in select U.S. theaters on February 21, 2020.