The Climb, 2020.
Directed by Michael Angelo Covino.
Starring Michael Angelo Covino, Kyle Marvin, Gayle Rankin, Talia Balsam, Zina Wilde, Judith Godrèche, George Wendt, Meredith Holzman, and Todd Barry.
A look at the friendship between two guys that spans over many years.
The Climb makes obvious from the beginning two things; director Michael Angelo Covino’s apparent fascination with long-takes and a specific brand of humor that is not only natural and authentic but quite literally real as the film is a look at the darkly funny toxic friendship between filmmakers and actors Covino and his best friend Kyle Marvin. Adapting his short story with a similar plot, Covino opens with Michael and Kyle going on a cycling ride with the former confessing that he has been sleeping with his best friend’s fiancé, a revelation that causes them to bicker like children and presumably cut each other out from their lives.
Not all details are given, as The Climb functions with a framing device that is more of a window into seven key life points dramatically affecting the friendship in one way or another, complete with strongly executed situational comedy utilizing settings and locations from ice-fishing bachelor parties to chaotic holiday gatherings (a prime sampling for the floaty cinematography that often goes outside of buildings just as much as it does in and around them). They get along, they get into an argument, they break out, and life usually brings the friendship back together even following seemingly unforgivable acts of betrayal.
The cycle is not just simplified down to that, though, as Kyle consistently demonstrates a desire to grow and evolve as a human being, at one point ready to settle down and get married even while not sure if he is actually in love. He does know he wants stability and a family, meanwhile, Michael is his antithesis, somehow becoming more helpless as a person without Kyle around. One of them is trying to ascend the metaphorical ladder, whereas the other can’t help but cling onto his ankle dragging him back down to a depressing reality. Still, at the heart of that reality is a charming friendship with just the right balance of laughs and foul behavior.
Fortunately, the screenwriting work from Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin is enough to overcome an episodic structure that can occasionally feel repetitive. Even if that’s the intent (and with an ending that beautifully contrasts to the opening sequence), there are small frustrations from the fact that the existence of many of these scenarios does not necessarily feel earned. All there really is to go on is that The Climb is semi-autobiographical to these people and their friendship that has survived everything from backstabbing to genuinely good times. The filmmakers also seem to be compensating for lack of a traditional story with an overwhelming amount of long-takes, not all of them doing much to enhance the dramatic purpose of a scene. These are ambitious filmmakers and certainly, have a lot of impressive craftsmanship on display (I especially like that the color palette is as miserable as the lives of these people), but there’s also no shaking the feeling that sometimes one is watching what someone can do without understanding why they are doing it that specific way.
Again, Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin do excel where it matters most; the jokes. Every chapter seems to always be building towards a grand punchline undercut with a plethora of other amusing bits along the way, doing everything from poking fun at how sad this friendship is to the equally sad notion that some people just never grow up. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to grow apart, as The Climb tries to navigate the sweet spot of distance and interactivity for friendship that’s ready to blow up one more time at any moment’s notice. The most tragic and biggest laugh of all is that these two really do deserve each other, in real-life and making buffoons of themselves onset.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com