The Climb (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Scenes from a friendship

“The Climb” is a small but hilarious comedy film about the bumpy friendship between its two ordinary main characters. As they alternatively push and pull each other over the story, the movie gives us a number of wonderful comic moments to be savored, and it is also rather touching to see how their problematic relationship eventually reaches to a sort of equilibrium around the end of the story.

During the opening scene, we meet Kyle (Kyel Marvin) and Mike (Michael Angelo Covino), who have been each other’s best friend for many years since their childhood years. They are doing cycling somewhere in Southern France, and they talk a bit about Kyle’s upcoming wedding and his fiancé Ava (Judith Godrèche), but then Mike comes to confess something which may jeopardize his best friend’s wedding. His revelation leads to the first funny moment in the film as he and Kyle argue with each other while also trying to keep cycling as before, and cinematography Zach Kuperstein’s camera steadily accumulates comic momentum via a plain but technically impressive unbroken shot.

Anyway, Mike and Kyle consequently become distant to each other, but then there later comes an unexpected incident which devastates Kyle a lot. Mired in so much grief, Kyle only comes to embarrass himself in front of others, and that is when Mike comes for helping and consoling him a bit. Both of them certainly feel awkward to be with each other, but it looks like they are on the way to reconciliation, and the movie impresses us more as deftly presenting this dynamic emotional moment in another commendable extended shot.

The following sequence, which is also fluidly presented in unbroken shot, initially shows Kyle being in a relationship with Marissa (Gayle Rankin), who was once his girlfriend during their high school years. Although he knows well that his mother and other family members do not approve much of her, he is willing to marry her as soon as possible, and we get another hilarious moment in the film when he tries something amusing for her in their little private place, which is incidentally the basement of his family house.

While Kyle and Marissa later try to enjoy Thanksgiving Day along with his family, his mother notifies to him that she invited Mike to their upcoming Christmas dinner just because Mike has been like another family member for years and is also in the need of some solace and support. Kyle does not feel that good about having his friend around Marissa, but, what do you know, he only ends up going to a ski resort along with not only Marissa but also Mike.

As observing the interactions among these three characters, we come to sense something being developed amid them, and, not so surprisingly, there eventually comes a point where Mike and Marissa have an emotional clash during Kyle’s absence. Believing that Marissa is not good enough for his best friend, Mike is willing to go a bit further for his best friend, but Marissa turns out to be a formidable match for him, and that leads to another funny moment for us.

I will not go into details on what will occur between Kyle and Mike next, but I can tell you at least that the screenplay by director Michael Angelo Covino and his co-writer (and real-life friend) Kyle Marvin, who also co-produce the film together in addition to acting together on the screen, keeps catching us off guard via a number of unexpected moments. In case of the long-take sequence unfolded on a frozen lake on one cold winter day, it looks like a mere counterpart to the opening scene, but then it comes to delve more into Kyle and Mike’s emotional bond as each of them confide more to each other, and then there comes a sudden moment which can be regarded as a punchline for this comic situation.

The movie, which was developed from Covino’s 2018 short film of the same name, depends a lot on the comic chemistry between Marvin and Covino, who are consistently believable throughout a series of ups and downs in their characters’ relationship development. Although the movie does not give us much of their characters’ background information, Marvin and Covino effortlessly convey to us the long history between their characters as well as their flawed but ultimately enduring emotional bond, and their characters come to us as engaging human figures to observe with some amusement.

Around Marvin and Covino, several other main cast members fill their respective spots as required. Gayle Rankin and Judith Godrèche are effective as two different women who happen to get themselves entangled with Kyle and Mike’s relationship, and Rankin is particularly wonderful when her character shows Kyle and others how much she is willing to take a chance with Kyle despite all those remaining matters around and between them. In case of Talia Balsam and George Wendt, they simply come and go as Kyle’s parents, but Balsam has one little nice moment when her character provides a mix of pep talk and advice to Mike at one point.

Although it was shown at the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival early in 2019 (It received the Jury Coup de Coeur award there, by the way), “The Climb” was released in US around the end of 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and then it was unfortunately forgotten shortly after that. In my humble opinion, this is indeed an overlooked gem which needs more attention, and I recommend you to check it out as soon as possible.

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