Standing Up, Falling Down is not the first time we’ve seen an Old and a Millennial teach one another important life lessons in heartwarming and hilarious ways. It’s hardly groundbreaking territory, to be perfectly honest. But for several key reasons, that ceases to matter almost immediately.
Scott (Schwartz) is a Los Angeles comedian in crisis. He’s broke, bombing at coffee house open mic nights, and staring into the abyss: moving back in with his parents in Long Island. He’s adrift, ashamed, angry, depressed, and covered with stress hives. A serendipitous meeting with Marty (Crystal), a drunken dermatologist at a bar, leads to a bizarre but deeply touching May-December friendship between the two misfits. Scott gets some much needed insight that not only helps his comedy but allows him to recalibrate his entire life. Marty, in return, gets an opportunity to play the father figure, a role that he spectacularly screwed up with his actual family, if his son’s determined refusal to even speak to him is anything to go by. The sense of genuine camaraderie between the two is a delight.
The respect each character is given by the other, but also from the screenwriter himself, is so important. How many times have we watched films similar to this where the script sets its sights almost entirely on low-hanging fruit about how the old guy has no filter because he’s old and doesn’t care anymore because of his prostate issues or something and anyway, that’s the entire joke?
Standing Up, Falling Down takes both of its lead characters and their problems seriously, rather than just as punchlines for lazy jokes. Sure, there’s a fair amount of generational divide humor, but for the most part, it’s derived from who they are as people rather than the archetypes of their age groups. There are moments where the jokes a perhaps a little obvious or played out (an extended conversation about social media and people posting too many baby pictures on Facebook comes to mind — it feels like observational humor from ten years ago and maybe not more than casually amusing even then) but it has far more hits than misses.
But most importantly, it’s almost impossible to overstate the value of the two people in question being played by Billy Crystal and Ben Schwartz. Crystal is having a great time and seems more invested in his character than he has been in quite a while, which makes sense as a comedian who has always leaned towards fatalistic humor. Schwartz, although new to the world of headlining a film, is almost inhumanly likeable and charming, somehow managing to have great chemistry with every actor he plays opposite. While I would happily spend the rest of my days watching Billy Crystal and Ben Schwartz star in films together, Schwartz also feels like a natural successor to Crystal’s comedic style in Hollywood. In many ways, Standing Up, Falling Down serves as a passing of the torch more than anything else, and if that’s the case, we have a lot to look forward to.
Directed by: Matt Ratner
Cast: Billy Crystal, Ben Schwartz, Eloise Mumford