'Standing Up, Falling Down': Film Review | Palm Springs 2020

Noah M. Rosenthal
Comedy about two losers is a winner.
2/21/2020

Billy Crystal plays an alcoholic doctor and Ben Schwartz a failed stand-up comic in this story of friendship and regret.

A lot of talented people contributed to a small but satisfying comedy that has played at a couple of festivals (most recently Palm Springs) and will be released in February. The nifty title, Standing Up, Falling Down, refers to the main character’s gig as a stand-up comic, but it also encapsulates the troubled lives of the two protagonists. Scott Rollins (Ben Schwartz) is a failed comic who retreats from Los Angeles to move in with his parents in Long Island. There he strikes up an unlikely friendship with Marty (a superb Billy Crystal), a dermatologist who harbors regrets and failures far more profound than Scott’s career disappointments.

Peter Hoare’s script etches the characters convincingly. Scott’s constant wisecracks cannot entirely camouflage the disappointments that led to his moving back home at the age of 34. He flounders in contemplating career options, and he also fantasizes about reconnecting with an ex-girlfriend who is now married to one of their classmates. While out carousing at a local bar, Scott runs into a neighborhood drunk who turns out to be a doctor whom Scott consults to treat a case of hives. These two men trade jokes and war stories, and although both of them are damaged, they draw a bit of strength from their friendship.

Director Matt Ratner gets strong performances from both Schwartz (a veteran of TV series like Parks and Recreation) and Crystal. In fact, this may be the best performance that Crystal has ever given; instead of wallowing in the schmaltzy emotion that he has sometimes exhibited in his more dramatic roles, Crystal finds the character’s self-sabotaging edge as well as his prickly sense of humor. Their relationship unfolds unpredictably and unsentimentally.

Both the director and the writer also deserve credit for etching a rich gallery of supporting characters, every one of whom is expertly played. Grace Gummer brings a tart sense of humor to her role as Scott’s impatient sister, and David Castaneda is winning as her boyfriend, a local security guard whose attempts at belligerence cannot entirely mask his innate kindness. As Marty’s estranged son, Nate Corddry plays his role with a convincing bitterness that banishes any hint of treacle. And as Scott’s parents, veteran actors Debra Monk and Kevin Dunn manage to turn potentially stock roles into complex, lived-in characters.

Eloise Mumford has warmth and sensuality as Scott’s ex-girlfriend, Becky, and their romantic encounter does not turn out predictably. John Behlmann as Becky’s husband has one superb scene in which he reveals his insecurity about being married to a woman who continues to harbor feelings for “the one who got away.” The greatest virtue of the movie is the vibrancy of all these characterizations and of a plot that takes several unexpected but always satisfying turns. The bittersweet ending is leavened with just the right note of acerbic humor.

Ratner’s visual evocation of this Long Island community is competent but not inspired, which is perhaps not surprising for a first-time director. But he more than compensates with his gift for casting and for bringing the best out of a group of experienced actors. Although there is nothing groundbreaking about the story told in Standing Up, a series of small grace notes help to freshen this dissection of lost souls searching for second chances.

Production companies: Tilted Windmill Productions, Mangano Movies, Whitewater Films
Cast: Billy Crystal, Ben Schwartz, Eloise Mumford, Grace Gummer, Nate Corddry, David Castaneda, Debra Monk, Kevin Dunn
Director: Matt Ratner
Screenwriter: Peter Hoare
Producers: Chris Mangano, Matt Ratner, Rick Rosenthal, John Hermann, Gabrielle Nadig
Executive producers: Billy Crystal, Peter Hoare, Ben Schwartz, Bert Kern, Nicholas Morton, Matt Bronson, Matthew Jacobs, Alexander R. Madorsky
Cinematographer: Noah M. Rosenthal
Production designer: Michael Fitzgerald
Costume designer: Maria Kenny
Editor: Shayar Bhansali
Music: David Schwartz
Casting: Rebecca Dealy
Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival

91 minutes