The Climb movie review: Michael Angelo Covino's debut feature is a funny yet insightful take on toxic friendships

The Climb may be a buddy comedy with indie sensibilities, no doubt a welcome respite to the genre that needed a shakeup.

Prathap Nair May 14, 2021 10:30:12 IST

3/5

This review was first published when The Climb was screened at Cannes Film Festival 2019. It is being republished after the India premiere of the film on BookMyShow Stream.

*

Buddy comedies in films is often an overused genre, aiming for easy laughs and hence they are never assessed on the basis of any critical merit. For good reason. They are often bawdy, needlessly sentimental. Waddling in their overambitious urge to please and amuse, there is often no nuance to be found in this genre.

Perhaps why The Climb feels like a whiff of fresh air with its unforgivingly realistic take on a friendship, even as it is about two adult white men and their dependency issues. Screened at the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2019, The Climb is directed by Michael Angelo Covino and written in partnership with Kyle Marvin, the duo that play the lead. It is a seemingly extended version of Covino’s 7-minute long 2018 Sundance short The Climb, a similar scene also serves as the opening of the feature film.

The Climb movie review Michael Angelo Covinos debut feature is a funny yet insightful take on toxic friendships

Still from The Climb. Cannes Film Festival

Even as it drags itself into the familiar tropes of failed friendships and misunderstood families, it pulls itself back by being true to its cadence that is at once scathing and unpatronising. Unfurling in seven neat segments, orbiting the lives of the friends, the movie opens with the duo cycling somewhere in France. Kyle, on the cusp of his wedding, gets a life-changing shock from Mike who tells him he had slept with his fiancée. Though this is one of the early glimpses of Mike’s selfishness, in the latter part of the movie, he’ll again attempt to sleep with his Kyle’s second fiancée seemingly to save him from getting married to what he sees as a wrong person.

These are the qualities that bind the movie together – a clingy and masochistically toxic friendship, dictated by an attention seeking need to overstep boundaries at all circumstances. While a bedraggled and alcoholic Mike reappears into Kyle’s life, it is only to attempt to stall the wedding the second time.

The Climb often works as a socio-cultural study on how friendships are formed and how their inevitability is shaped by the mutual urge to self-destruct.

Even as one hurdle after another appears in the friendship and mistakes are made, there is no dramatic transformation in either of the character traits of Mike and Kyle which makes the progression all the more organic.

Sprinkled with clever digs, even as it seems to wallow in its own pathos sometimes, The Climb never loses sight of its comic sensibilities by attempting to see humor in every circumstance. Consider these: Michael who wants to shovel the first dirt on his wife’s coffin, ends up fighting with the unionized French graveyard workers who wouldn’t allow him to use the shovel because it’s their territory. In another scene, reciting from the book of Bible at Kyle’s wedding, his sisters, who share no affinity to his fiancé, choose to read from the chapter of revelation that details the obedience of wife to her husband. These scenes help build comic momentum of the movie even as it plunges itself knee deep in serious introspection about a devastatingly ruinous friendship.

Of the friends, one is a kindhearted do-gooder who can’t seem to let go of a toxic friendship and the other, by his own admission, is an asshole who even as he doesn’t care about trampling over his friend’s feelings for his selfishness, will nevertheless jump in to save his friend from what he sees as an eventual catastrophe of a marriage. The childish immaturity and brash masculinity of Mike combined with Kyle’s remarkable ability to forgive in the friendship weirdly offers symbiosis in their relationship.

Zach Kuperstein camerawork is equally enchanting when it captures a summer in France as well as the wintry chaos of an American home in Christmas. Background score by Jon Natchez and Martin Mabz offers additional impetus, even as the renditions by gravediggers (of 'I Shall Not Be Moved') and the Ukranian ballad singers seem to momentarily startle the flow of the movie though these scenes still work as a stylistic plot device.

With clever dialogues and an unsparing look into an adult friendship, The Climb may be a buddy comedy with indie sensibilities, nevertheless, it wants to appeal to a broader audience. No matter how you see it, The Climb is no doubt a welcome respite to the genre that needed a shakeup.

Rating: ***

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