Author Nick Hornby has a good track record with this movie stuff. The bestselling writer has been responsible for the source material – a little thing called “books” – for a number of beloved films that continue to endure as favorites in a crowded movie marketplace. Basically, the man writes good books, and then they become good movies. Hornby’s jump to the big screen so far includes films like About A Boy (which has now spawned its own television series), Fever Pitch (which got both a British and an American version in the span of eight years), and High Fidelity. (Hornby, it must be noted, is also a screenwriter who has found a niche adapting the work of others for the big screen – including An Education and the upcoming movie version of Wild.)
But is Hornby’s next film going to hit with fans – both of his movies and of his books, and of any intermingling therein – or has the era of Hornb-tation run its course? Let’s try this – how do you feel about stories about suicide? What if they involve Imogen Poots? Are you interested in seeing Aaron Paul not yelling “bitch” a lot? Are you opposed to crying in movie theaters? Do you need a fairy tale ending?
Hornby has trafficked in the tough stuff before – it’s easy to remember all the relationship drama of High Fidelity, but it doesn’t seem nearly as important and actually life-or-death if you forget how the film is framed around the wrenching death of Laura’s beloved father – but this is a new level for the author. A Long Way Down, based on Hornby’s book of the same name, which hit shelves back in 2005, is all about suicide. Or, at least, it’s about the attempted suicides of a set of four very different people.
These people all want to die. These people all want to die so much that they’ve actually gone to the place where they intend to kill themselves. This is serious stuff.
A Long Way Down chronicles the halting relationships between four people who meet while attempting to off themselves by throwing themselves off a high rise building – an apparent hot spot for many previous and similar deaths – on New Year’s Eve. Their reasons for being there are all a bit different – Martin (Pierce Brosnan) is a disgraced journalist who has lost his job and his family, Maureen (Toni Collette) can no longer deal with the demands of her disabled son, JJ (Paul) is sick of being a loser former rock star, and Jess (Poots) is just a little impulsive – but all of them want to die right then (and also alone – oops!). The four bond over their odd predicament, and eventually come to a pact – no one kills themselves for at least six weeks.
And, yes, the four eventually grow to be each other’s support system. But it’s not as sunshiny as that all sounds, which is why the beginning of the film’s latest trailer – which goes just sort of “punchy” with its depiction of the four’s fateful meeting – feels so strange and out of place. This isn’t a zippy tale, it’s not even particularly feel-good, and the source material is Hornby’s darkest book yet. So why does this look so flimsy?
Well, it’s marketing, and marketing is about getting butts into seats – and we imagine it’s not so easy to tempt the mass market with the possibility of four very likable stars offing themselves on the big screen. And yet, paradoxically, the best part of Hornby’s book is how serious it really is, how it doesn’t back down from upsetting matters and doesn’t go for some dippy, unrealistic wrap-up. It’s more drama than dramedy, and that’s not exactly what movie audiences have come to expect from Hornby.
But this might also be a case where the film itself actually is flimsy, the kind that reverts into that Hornby dramedy without paying respects to what he put on the page. Reviews from the film – which has already opened in Europe – give credence to this theory. Take a look at the film’s Rotten Tomatoes page. See those words? “Tacky,” “corny,” “misguided,” “cringey,” “glib” and “doomed.” Not good. Those are the sorts of keywords that signal that Pascal Chaumeil’s film has not done what Hornby’s book needs – understand it as a darker piece than we’re used to, a progression in Hornby’s work and something that can’t pass charm off as an accomplishment in entertainment.
The era of Nick Hornby might not be over, but it looks like the era of the Nick Hornby movie is tumbling fast.
A Long Way Down opens on June 5th.