Tumbledown is an exercise in trying to squash down the thoughts of “what could have been”. Failing itself by it’s need to over explain, with dialogue that reaches for it’s heavy hand too quickly, there’s a film underpart it’s own self-made trappings that is deeply evocative, deeply intriguing, and remarkably more interesting than the end product.
Hannah (Rebecca Hall) is mourning the loss of her folk singer/cult hero husband who lost his life to a hiking accident a few years prior. In the early stages of writing his biography in a rural town in Maine, she’s disrupted by Curtis’s (Jason Sudekis) appearance, a professor from New York who also is an avid fan of her late husband’s work. In an odd move the two decide to work on the biography together to fully tell his story.
I think this film may have found Jason Sudeikis’s sweet spot as a leading man. Almost completely stripped of his typical snark and rough edges, his character is instantly appealing. Carrying with him both an affable charm as well as a low key sadness from burdens of his past, he’s compelling naturally, rather than writing him into a role that rings false. I would very much enjoy seeing the actor tackle roles of this ilk as they service him far greater than his typically dimwitted comedies.
On the other hand, Rebecca Hall, an actress I typically enjoy very much, seems ill suited for the role, possessing too much of a cool severity to convince as a playful, loose canon type. The film doesn’t do much to help her at first, as while grief manifests itself in varying forms, they write her to be such an obnoxiously, bullheaded ass that it’s difficult to empathize with the character. Even greater of a problem is that it’s hard to believe that Sudeikis’s character would fall for her after the way she treated him.
A film that survives by it’s atmosphere, Tumbledown finds itself floundering at moments that are more plot oriented. The moment’s where her ex’s music dominates and imagery of “Maine” (it was shot is Massachusetts- very noticeable to this proud Mainer here), and when the state’s naturalistic beauty dominates the camera the film soars. It is built on it’s tone and with the gray setting and framing that makes sure every tree and every ray of sun is brought into focus, where Hannah’s yellow jacket stands stark against the landscape, it’s hard to not be sucked into the film.
It would be easier however if the script wasn’t so thoroughly clunky throughout, forcing the actors to deliver a lot of telling and not showing instances. We have to be told the Hannah is a hot head more than once instead of the story just allowing Hall to demonstrate that. As well, the supporting characters are so severely underwritten that it’s a shame that the film didn’t just cut them out all together and instead lie the sole focus on Hannah and Curtis and their week in her cabin. Then maybe we would have been able to fully feel ourselves get sucked into their quick climb to romance.
On the other hand though, there are those images and there is that undercurrent, simmering ideology of sadness and grief and how it never fully leaves you. There is a quiet storm hanging behind Curtis’s eyes and a louder, more abrasive one coming from Hannah’s lips. The two maybe aren’t so much falling in love but connecting over a man and his music and what it meant to them.
Music by Damien Juradol and to an extent score by Daniel Hart is key to whatever the success of the film you derive is. It is the souls backbone because we have to believe that it’s not just the loss of his life but the loss of his art that is hugely tragic. There needs to be an understanding why Curtis would be so unequivocally drawn to his songs, having never met. With a Bon Iver likeness, the music easily accomplishes this goal of setting the so important tone, often, along with the cinematography and Sudeikis, being what keeps the film alive. Even more so though, is that it’s this music so riddled with an untapped pain that brings these two meandering souls together.
You can catch Tumbledown in theaters now.