Standing Up, Falling Down (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Billy Crystal still has it

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I could not help but become a bit nostalgic as watching Billy Crystal in “Standing Up, Falling Down”. While considerably dialing down his distinctive comic persona here in this small comedy film, he still knows how to engage and then tickle us, and he is as effortless as he was in many best moments in his long career including when he hosted the Oscar ceremony more than once (Remember how much he delighted us right from he came into the stage at the beginning of the 2012 Oscar ceremony?).

The movie mainly revolves around a struggling stand-up comedian named Scott (Ben Schwartz), and the opening part shows us how miserably he has been at the dead end of his career. No matter how much he tries hard, he does not generate much laugh from whoever is listening to him because his materials are not so funny from the beginning, and then it turns out that he is not actually performing at a comedy club.

Disappointed and depressed, Scott decides to return to his hometown in Long Island. While his mother Jeanie (Debra Monk) wholeheartedly welcomes her son’s return, his father Gary (Kevin Dunn) does not look that excited mainly because Scott refused to join the family business for pursuing his stand-up comedian career several years ago, and his younger sister Megan (Grace Gummer) greets her brother with some playful barbs on his failing career.

Thanks to a close friend of his currently running a local comedy club, Scott gets a chance to perform at the comedy club, but he still finds himself struggling to think of any good joke, and he comes to wonder whether he made a right choice when he decided to leave his hometown as well as his ex-girlfriend, who married one of their high school friends not long after their breakup. As coming to learn of how she has lived well with her husband during last several years, Scott cannot help but feel wistful and regretful, and he soon comes to consider getting any possible chance to approach to her.

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Meanwhile, Scott happens to get himself associated with Marty (Billy Crystal), a middle-aged guy who is one of the usual customers of a local bar where Scott drops by during one evening. Their first encounter is not so pleasant at all, and Scott is just mildly annoyed by Marty’s drunken behaviors, but, what do you know, they subsequently meet each other again when Scott goes to a local clinic for his ongoing skin problem.

After being helped a bit by Marty at that point, Scott encounters him again unexpectedly, and they quickly befriend each other as spending more time together. While he is often too loud and boisterous whenever he gets drunk, Marty is a fun guy to hang around with, and Scott comes to like him more as getting to know more of him. As he casually admits, Marty is your average alcoholic who fell off the wagon after his second wife died some time ago, and he has also been estranged from the children from his first marriage, who were quite hurt by how he inadvertently ruined his first marriage.

Never hurrying its plot, the screenplay by Peter Hoare leisurely doles out one small funny moment after another while Scott and Marty continue to have a fun time together. At the end of their another drinking night, they happen to smoke marijuana outside, but then they are caught off guard when someone comes upon them unexpectedly, and that leads to one of the most humorous moments in the film.

While coming to discern more humor in his life and people around him, Scott slowly regains his groove, and, not so surprisingly, he comes to entertain a small group of audiences at the comedy club more than expected. They say misery is not so far from comedy, and now he realizes how humor can be utilized for not only his audiences but also himself.

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I must point out that Hoare’s screenplay stumbles more than once during its rather contrived last act. While a scene associated with the unresolved feelings between Scott and his ex-girlfriend is not that convincing in my inconsequential opinion, what happens shortly after the bitter scene between Marty and one of his children is artificial to say the least, and I wish the movie delved deeper into Marty’s personal demons behind his better sides.

Anyway, director Matt Ratner handles the story and characters well enough to compensate for these and other weak points in the film, and the main cast members of the movie are solid in their respective roles. While Crystal deftly balances his character between humor and pathos, Ben Schwartz, who also dials down himself a lot compared to his flamboyant recurring role in TV sitcom series “Parks and Recreation”, diligently carries the film along with Crystal, and the other notable cast members including Grace Gummer, Debra Monk, and Kevin Dunn also hold each own small place well around Crystal and Schwartz.

On the whole, “Standing Up, Falling Down” is familiar and predictable to the core, but it is supported well by enough humor and poignancy, and I was constantly entertained by the comic interplay between Schwartz and Crystal. Although he has been less active in his filmography during last 10 years, Crystal still has it, and I hope he will accept more opportunities to appear on the screen in the future.

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