Standing Up, Falling Down

At the Movies Blog

Billy Crystal plays a doctor helping Ben Schwartz.

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I had a lot of fears getting ready to watch this movie. As much of a comedy legend as Billy Crystal is to me (Analyze This, City Slickers, When Harry Met Sally, Saturday Night Live, and hosting the Oscars), the last few movies of his were disappointing; as was his last time hosting the Oscars. I figured being a hip funny-man was no longer in his wheelhouse. But in this, playing a 65-year-old, alcoholic dermatologist, he does some serious acting that pairs nicely with his comedic lines. It helps that Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation) has great chemistry with him. He plays a 34-year-old who has given up his dream to make it in comedy out in Los Angeles, and has moved back in with his parents on Long Island. He and his sister (Grace Gummer, who has a career because she’s Meryl Streep’s daughter) have nice chemistry, as they rib each other constantly, but you feel like they really do love each other. 

In fact, every interaction is filled with terrific chemistry. When Scott (Schwartz) is hanging out with his friend (Leonard Ouzts) in a bar, he’s lamenting the fact that his friend can only have one beer before going home to his wife and kids. Yet the banter feels like friends shooting the sh**, and is just humorous enough to work. Even if a lot of this felt like familiar beats and formulaic. It’s not reinventing the “trying to make it in show business and returning home a failure” wheel. Sure, those types of premises were done so much better in the indie films Garden State and Swingers. And there was a great movie about stand-up comedy that came out last month called The Opening Act. Yet, this is a pleasant film to watch, and I doubt anybody will be disappointed with it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t disappointing things about it. It had three scenes in a row that didn’t work. The first was Billy Crystal showing up at his estranged son’s house to ask for forgiveness. The next was Scott asking a mailman if he liked his job (his parents keep bugging him to get a job at the post office). Those two scenes were followed by Scott going to his ex-girlfriend’s (Eloise Mumford of Fifty Shades) house. There are about 15 things that don’t make sense about that scene. First, her current husband is at the beach surfing (right near their beach house). Second, why would she want to see him, after the way he treated her five years earlier? Third, if she wants to see him, oh…it’s not worth going into all of it. The scene is just ridiculous. 

So the movie starts when Marty (Crystal) is getting drunk at a bar, and lamenting the fact that they won’t let him sing karaoke. Scott has a fun conversation with him in the bathroom, before he urinates in the sink. It’s the first sign that maybe Marty has a drinking problem. Yet in his sober moments, they start to become friends. And it’s nice that it never felt forced, and their friendship was growing organically. It’s also refreshing that, although these two seem to inspire each other, it’s not like Marty just gives up the booze because of his new-found friend; although perhaps Scott starts writing more comedy because of him. He does get back up onstage. It’s also refreshing that he doesn’t bomb. Obviously, he’d have talent as a comedian. It would have been nice if funnier stand-up material had been written for him.

Plenty of great lines were written for Crystal, and that was needed, too. The reason the regulars at the bar tolerate him, is because he’s humorous and has charm. There’s a scene where he playfully lectures two black guys on their jukebox choices. Another time, he’s playing pool with two much younger women he’s trying to pick up  (and you realize he’d be the only 65-year-old who could be a good wingman). To an Asian guy named Glenn (I have an Asian friend named Glenn, too; one of the best cameramen in Hollywood)…he asks if he’ll duet the song “Mr. Roboto” with him.

It’s nice that when Marty gives Scott advice, it doesn’t seem overly profound. There will be lines like “Regret is the only thing that’s real,” or “Lightning can strike twice,” or “You might have been perfect for her, but she might not have been right for you.”

There was a bit with Scott’s mom (great Broadway star Debra Monk) constantly bursting in on him in the bathroom (I can never figure out in these movies why bathroom doors aren’t locked). The father (great character actor Kevin Dunn) is a bit too gruff, as the angry father who wants his son to give up the pipe dream of getting rich telling jokes. After all, he can take over his lumber business someday. I did like his line about seeing Brad Garrett do comedy in Las Vegas and “You’re no Brad Garrett.” 

Nate Corddry (Rob’s brother) plays the angry son. Those scenes should have moved me more than they did. Perhaps it’s just a trope I’ve grown a bit tired of. Perhaps if his character would have been fleshed out a bit better, or the confrontation with dad done a bit better.

It was also a bit of fun to hear Marty complain about how people use Facebook — 12 baby pictures a day, checking in wherever you are “like we give a sh**.” All rants I’ve done about my friends on Facebook.

It’s the first-time feature for Matt Ratner, and he did a good job blending the comedy and drama. I have to think everyone will enjoy spending their time watching Scott and Marty banter with each other.

3 stars out of 5.

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