Berlinale 2014: Soft landing – suicide comedy A Long Way Down

How Nick Hornby adaptations have fallen.

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The ‘Topper House Four’: A Long Way Down

The ‘Topper House Four’: A Long Way Down

We all have our guilty pleasures at film festivals. For some at this year’s Berlinale that film may have been Zombeavers [trailer], for others the extended version of Von Trier’s Nymph()maniac (despite or because of rumours that the added minutes merely involved more genitalia), with the sideshow of its accompanying press conference.

I didn’t aim as high (or low) as either of those, content simply to escape the long cinephile challenge for a brief chill-out to the wit and pub wisdom of Nick Hornby. A Long Way Down was screening in the boutique, out-of-competition corner of the festival, Berlinale Special. I was confident that in the very least I would be entertained. I really didn’t expect it to be so bloody daft.

It’s adapted from Hornby’s 2005 novel, about four would-be suicides who meet on the same roof on New Year’s Eve, the lack of privacy deterring each from jumping. Bonded in the sudden, absurd moment, they make a pact to stay alive till Valentine’s Day. Although the reason for their agreement is nebulous (as are some of their reasons for wanting to kill themselves in the first place), the very existence of the unlikely quartet will save them.

There’s nothing wrong with attempting a comedy about suicide, though the only successful one that comes to mind is Hal Ashby’s sublime Harold and Maude. The comedy needs be black; feelgood, really doesn’t wash.

Pierce Brosnan is the former talk show celebrity who’s lost everything after sleeping with an under-age girl; Toni Collette a single mother with a disabled son, struggling to cope with his care; Imogen Poots a politician’s daughter struggling with the disappearance of her sister; Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul a failed musician delivering pizzas.

They’re each allotted some trademark Hornby voice-over time, none of it particularly revealing and none with the piquancy of, say, Hugh Grant’s in About a Boy. Otherwise, their characters variously bicker, flirt, fight and unite with no sense of the clock ticking.

There are some nice lines, for sure. I particularly liked Brosnan’s grumpy observation, as he returns home after his aborted jump, that “I expected to be on my car, not in it.” But for the most part the humour is broad and forced. And rather than monitor how each is feeling, their emotional health and intentions as Valentine’s Day approaches, the story focuses on the mundane nonsense of the “Topper House Four” story that has turned them into tabloid fodder.

The novel was adapted by Jack Thorne and directed by Frenchman Pascal Chaumeil (Heartbreaker).

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