Director Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin adapt their short film “The Climb” to the big screen with a feature of the same name. The film is an engrossing character study of a friendship. With elements of Larry David along with the detail of Cassavetes, the film keeps you guessing from start to finish with some quirky apprehension and a solid helping of black humor.
Childhood friends Mike (Michael Angelo Covino) and Kyle (Kyle Marvin) are biking in France. Kyle is thrilled that he is marrying his fiancee Ava. Seemingly out of the blue, Mike says he had been sleeping with Ava until recently. Kyle is understandably shocked and at a loss. Minutes later Mike is beaten up and taken to the hospital due to an unrelated road rage incident. Ava (Judith Godrèche) is at the hospital and starts kissing Mike. Kyle leaves, beside himself.
Ava dies unexpectedly. A drunken Mike (who emerged as Ava’s husband) causes a scene near the casket and he fights with Kyle violently tumbling and rolling on the floor.
Months pass. It is Thanksgiving. Kyle’s mother (Talia Balsam) confesses that she invited Mike to Christmas dinner and Kyle does his best to hide his dismay.
Then we see Mike: depressed, overweight and zombie-like.
The film deftly captures the eeriness of friendship and co-dependency. The camera slowly turns, shifting left and right, peering behind curtains, doors and windows as if in a horror movie. At times set on funeral grounds or in a pristine and sedate church, the story is more than a bit spooky. It becomes apparent that Kyle is submissive, unable or unwilling to speak for himself. Mike invariably shows up, sometimes entertaining, sometimes boorish.
It is not all a study in dysfunction however. Kyle clearly receives happiness from his friend. He likes Mike’s impulsiveness, his volatility and his devil may care attitude.
With visual quotes from John Carpenter, the Coen Brothers and Mike Nichols’, “The Graduate”, the film underscores the strange uneasiness of friendship where precious little is clear and lucid.
There have been many slightly dark humored friendship films from “Neighbors” to “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” but all too many of them take the route of slapstick with minimal depth or introspection. By contrast, “The Climb” highlights ambivalence, stress and opacity. How much friendship is brought upon by negative feelings as well as those that are positive? Refreshingly, this film only offers a few answers.
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