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A Long Way Down
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Long Way Down is a dark comedy about four strangers who postpone their suicide attempts after meeting on the night they originally wanted to end their lives. Based on English author Nick Hornby's (About a Boy, High Fidelity) 2005 book, the movie deals with heavy themes (depression, loneliness, isolation) that are sometimes portrayed as humorous and other times as heartbreaking. One of the characters swears like a sailor ("f--king"), and there's a one-night stand, a naked behind (glimpsed when a character is in a hospital gown), a non-fatal drug overdose, and some serious drinking. But the message, of course, is that life, no matter how painful it might temporarily be, is still worth living.
What's the story?
A LONG WAY DOWN is the adaptation of best-selling English author Nick Hornby's 2005 novel about four strangers who meet on the night they all plan to commit suicide by leaping off of the same fictional London building, Topper's House. Martin Sharp (Pierce Brosnan) had it all -- a top morning talk show, a beautiful wife, two young girls -- until an affair with an underage girl sent him to prison and ruined his life. He's ready to kill himself on New Year's Eve, but as he's deliberating whether to jump, he meets Maureen (Toni Collette), a single mother to a severely disabled young man who feels helpless about her life. But she can't jump, either, because onto the roof strides young, wise-cracking Jess (Imogen Poots) and finally American pizza delivery guy J.J. (Aaron Paul), who says he's got terminal cancer. The four strangers end up spending most of the night together, and since it's then January 1, they make a pact to not to attempt suicide again until Valentine's Day. The story quickly leaks to the tabloids, earns them a nickname (the "Topper's House Four"), and brings them together.
Is it any good?
Hornby's books have mostly translated into funny and poignant films like About a Boy and High Fidelity, so perhaps it was inevitable for one of his novels to seriously falter on the big screen. The cast of A Long Way Down is surprisingly stellar, but the characters are still unbelievable and difficult to relate with, except possibly for Paul's wannabe rocker J.J., who's more generally depressed than suffering from a particular tragedy. As Maureen, Collette, like Paul, exudes a quiet, pervasive sadness that's in sharp contrast to Poots' manic, potty-mouthed Jess and Brosnan's narcissistic and shallow Martin.
The screenplay and the direction are so uneven that they make the movie seem more like episodes of a zany TV dramedy patched together than a seamless story about four lonely souls who are desperate for connection and hope. The book, one would hope, fills in the holes that the movie glosses over, but on the screen, even the four points of view and narration don't truly invest the audience in the characters' lives. There are occasional funny moments and a predictable romance, but overall the tone and the execution fall flat.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about dark comedies and why they're meant to be provocative. Is suicide a funny topic in general? How does the filmmaker make otherwise dark moments humorous?
How is the British press portrayed? Do you think it's believable how the media flocked to the story? Do you think that would happen in real life?
What should you do if you or someone you know starts expressing suicidal thoughts and desires?
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