Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.
This week, unexpected romance finds Rebecca Hall and Jason Sudeikis as they co-write the biography of a deceased folk singer in Tumbledown.
Why Do You Want to Write This Book?
Two years after iconic folk singer Hunter Miles’ untimely death, his music and legacy are beginning to fade. But his adoring widow Hannah (Rebecca Hall) is determined to prevent that. Living a solitary life in the Maine wilderness, Hannah spends her days chipping away at a biography befitting her late lover. Mostly she stares at a blank computer screen. Seems the right words just won’t come. Lucky for Hannah, pop culture scholar Andrew McDonnel (Jason Sudeikis) is working on a book about pop stars that lived too fast and died too young. And he wants Hunter to be the centerpiece of that book. Unwilling to let an outsider write her late husband’s story, Hannah wants nothing to do with Andrew or his New York intellectualism. But his writing is good. And he seems to care about Hunter’s music. Soon enough, Andrew is sleeping in Hannah’s guest room and sorting through the tangled layers of Hunter’s life. Of course, he can’t do that without sorting through Hannah’s life as well. As the pair dig through the raw nerves of love, loss, and legacy, a mutual respect begins to develop. Perhaps even friendship. But then, well …
In the Middle, You Feel Like It’s Never Going to End
The words “In the middle, you feel like it’s never going to end,” are among the first spoken in Tumbledown. They’re also among the last. But it’s the space in-between when the words have the biggest impact on Director Sean Mewshaw’s film. No, they do not affect Hannah’s story in some grand emotional way. Nor do they affect Andrew’s. They’re the words that kept turning over in my head as I watched Mewshaw’s film devolve from compelling character drama to sappy romance. A sappy romance fueled by dime-store psychology and cheap synthetic emotion. In other words, halfway through Tumbledown I was afraid that it would never end.
If that sounds a bit harsh, it’s only because I really wanted to like Tumbledown. That has a lot to do with Rebecca Hall, who is one of those actors that can breathe life into a character without a word of dialogue. She brings a fragile grace and fierce intellect to the fractured Hannah that elevates the character above the film’s ‘grieving widow’ setup. She’s matched in both intellect and emotion by Jason Sudeikis – which is quite a nice surprise. Save for a charming turn in last year’s excellent Sleeping With Other People, I’ve come to expect little from Sudeikis as an actor. But there’s a tenderness in his Tumbledown performance that caught me off guard. Prone to bouts of self-righteous intellectualism, Andrew often sounds the part of pompous university professor. But Sudeikis’ understated performance brings a palpable sense of humanity to the otherwise cocksure intellectual. That humanity is most on display when he’s talking about the music of Hunter Miles. When Andrew talks about the deceased singer’s songs, it’s easy to see why Hannah would bring him into the fold. If Sudeikis doesn’t sell the emotion, much of Tumbledown‘s emotional house of cards would crumble. And Hall finds an essential balance between fiery will and wounded heart. With both actors delivering the goods, the budding friendship and underlying tensions don’t just feel authentic, they feel essential. Through much of Tumbledown‘s opening act, the verbal and emotional sparring makes for compelling cinema. There’s even hope that Tumbledown will live up to its promise as a soulful exploration of loss and legacy.
But that doesn’t happen. Mewshaw and Screenwriter Desiree Van Til simply never commit to that story. Or any story, for that matter. As Tumbledown limps along for an hour and forty-five minutes, director and screenwriter undercut the film’s human drama with a string of asinine romantic comedy tropes and muddled side-stories. Tumbledown is a film that works best when Hannah and Andrew are locked away in their cabin in the woods discussing the legacy of a dead man. A dead man whose spirit still lords over every thought in Hannah’s head and every inch of that cabin. I’d love to see a version of this film that takes place entirely in the confines of that cabin. The only action in that film would be the incisive banter between the film’s leads. No overbearing family members. No eccentric townspeople. And not even a hint of the underdeveloped, wholly unearned romantic entanglement. Just thoughts and words and raw emotion. And maybe a couple of the excellent ‘Hunter Miles’ songs that Damien Jurado composed and performed for the film. That would be a movie worth watching. More so, at least, than this farce of a human drama.
No. No it’s not. Despite an intriguing setup and winning performances from Hall and Sudeikis, Tumbledown never decides what kind of movie it wants to be. It’s poorly written. It’s poorly executed. And it finally crumbles under the weight of its own indecision. Not to mention a final act that never rings true to the spirit of the story or its characters. Save your dollar this week, ‘cause there’s nothing but frustration in the cold heart of Tumbledown. If you’re dying to spend some time with a film about loss, legacy, and those left behind, you might think about watching Tom Ford’s masterpiece of grief, A Single Man (2009). That’s a film that understands what it actually means to grieve and it features Colin Firth in the finest performance of his illustrious career. Also, A Single Man is currently streaming on Netflix. No rental required. Happy streaming!