standing up falling down review

The homecoming comedy is the bread and butter of the indie circuit, and as poignant and humanist as the genre can be, it can also get old fast. It falls then, on the shoulders of the stars to keep the film from stumbling; thankfully in Standing Up, Falling Down, Ben Schwartz and Billy Crystal are more than up to the task.

Schwartz stars as a failed stand-up comedian Scott, who returns to his hometown with his tail between his legs after striking out in the Los Angeles comedy scene. Moving back in with his parents, he finds that everyone he knows has moved on ahead of him — his best friends have no time for him because of kids and adulthood, and his ex-girlfriend Becky (Eloise Mumford) is happily married. But a chance encounter with the town kook Marty (Crystal) kicks off a life-altering friendship that will pull Scott from the rut that he’s in.

“Regret is the only thing that’s real,” Marty teaches Scott — though Marty is not some wise old geezer whose entire existence is spouting profound aphorisms and singing badly at karaoke. Crystal gets to dig into his dramatic well for the role of the charming, flawed dermatologist whose only friends seem to be at the local bar. Though both Crystal and Schwartz’s comedic chops get put to good use in Standing Up, Falling Down, Crystal is fantastic at communicating a despondent loneliness that his character attempts to mask with a gregarious personality and alcoholism. His many mistakes in life have piled up on his shoulders, which Crystal frequently slouches throughout the film, as if he can no longer fight the gravity of his regrets.

Schwartz is charming as the aimless Scott, who constantly dodges his badgering mom and disappointed dad, as well as his ex Becky, the hometown girlfriend he left heartbroken when he tried to break into the LA comedy scene. Though he plays a comedian, he is ostensibly the straight man to Crystal’s larger-than-life Marty, which Schwartz plays generously, after long being relegated to outrageous supporting roles. While the character of Scott, the down-on-his-luck millennial comedian, is nothing groundbreaking, Schwartz lends him a real warmth. He’s got a real romantic leading man confidence to him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this were a test run for him to take on larger lead roles.

The film is at its best when Schwartz and Crystal are bouncing off each other, either comedically or dramatically. Crystal may not be playing the comedian, but his humor can’t help but shine through, and it’s the film’s boon when it does — it would be easy to watch Crystal riff all day. But both Schwartz and Crystal impress when they smoothly transition from their odd-couple routine to moments of somber self-reflection. Scott and Marty are two similar souls, grappling with their failures and trying to make amends. There’s a sad beauty in that.

While the supporting cast, which includes Nate Corddry and Grace Gummer, hold their own as rather flat stock characters, Standing Up, Falling Down belongs to Schwartz and Crystal. It’s a bit of a shame that the rest of the characters aren’t as fleshed out or compelling as these two, but first-time feature director Matt Ratner knows comedy and dramatic gold when he sees it.

Standing Up, Falling Down is a character drama first, and a homecoming comedy second. Because of that, the arcs that Scott and Marty go through are a little clumsily paced, with long stretches in which nothing of import really happens. But despite some storytelling stumbles, Standing Up, Falling Down manages to stay upright thanks to knockout performances from Schwartz and Crystal.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10

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