Nothing says comedy like “A Long Way Down’s” contrived meet-cute among four strangers who’ve all climbed to the top of the same tall building to commit suicide on New Year’s Eve. Pierce Brosnan’s character ruined his life by indulging an underage fling, Toni Collette’s feels “helpless,” Imogen Poots’ probably just wants attention, and Aaron Paul’s seems upset that “Breaking Bad” is over. Luckily, these desperados have each other, which evidently worked for Nick Hornby as a novel, though in movie form, it’s worse than tacky, trivializing depression for a handful of easy laughs and pop-psychology platitudes. Euro auds might buy it, but the pic will hit the pavement hard abroad, no doubt swan-diving into VOD.
Like a cross between a warm-and-fuzzy support-group hug and one of those infernal Garry Marshall-directed holiday ensemblers, this ingratiating adaptation of Hornby’s fourth novel has been interpreted with plucky sitcom style by British TV scribe Jack Thorne and brought to the screen by French helmer Pascal Chaumeil (“Heartbreaker”). Together, they aim to plaster a big old grin on the face of each and every audience member, starting from the unlikeliest possible place to do so.
While the rest of London is ringing in the New Year, disgraced talkshow personality Martin Sharp (Brosnan) lugs a ladder up the stairs of Toppers Tower, determined to off himself. As he stands hesitating on the ledge — in the one shot viewers won’t find instantly forgettable — a timid woman named Maureen (Collette, looking like a middle-aged Muriel) joins him on the roof, politely asking whether he wouldn’t mind hurrying it up so that she might take her turn. In short order, Jess (Poots, a dull young thing working overtime to seem eccentric) and J.J. (Paul, typically sullen) turn up, corroborating what their respective stereotypes have already suggested: Each of these individuals is a walking cliche, incapable of an original thought, even when it comes to making his or her exit.
Speaking of exits, or the lack thereof, the comedy that follows may as well be Hornby’s answer to Sartre’s “hell is other people” dictum, as these four souls make a sort of purgatorial pact on that rooftop not to kill themselves for four weeks, postponing the deed until at least Valentine’s Day. In the meantime, they’re stuck together, alternately annoying and amusing one another once the press gets hold of their story and turns them into a mini-sensation: the “Topper House Four.”
In the series of television interviews that follow, the film fixates on a remarkably unfunny detail in which “professional liar” Jess invents a story about how they were saved by an angel who looked like Matt Damon. Celebrity and the pursuit — or half-hearted avoidance — of public attention are among the pic’s more poisonous preoccupations, with the contrast illustrated by Martin (who misses the adulation of his old job) and Jess (who’s disgusted by her phony politician father, played by Sam Neill). Hornby, who so charmingly weaves his trove of pop-culture knowledge into other projects, comes away preaching that suffering is somehow validated when it can be shared with others.
Having shamelessly exploited suicide as a plot device, the script proceeds to give its characters Reasons To Live, offering all sorts of implausible bonding opportunities, including a group vacation to Mallorca. If pics such as “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Love Liza” depicted the harrowing effects of addiction and depression, then “A Long Way Down” deals in the greeting-card alternative. Had one of the group actually gone through with it, that might have been ballsy. Instead, Chaumeil — with his bouncy music and bright studio production values — is content to be cutesy. Plenty will find it adorable; the rest will be left wanting to slit their wrists.