Tue. Oct 15th, 2019

Cannes Review: Michael Angelo Covino’s ‘The Climb’ is pitch-perfect buddy comedy

(Photo: Topic Studios)

It’s not without its blemishes, but by combining breakthrough lead performances, accomplished cinematography, hilarious sight gags and pitch-perfect, farcical dialogue, Michael Angelo Covino’s re-invention of the buddy comedy – a rich American cinematic tradition – smoothly rolls through farce to a cathartic finish

We all have friends that we probably shouldn’t have. It’s pretty ubiquitous of the human experience. There’s always going to be at least one person whose hip – regardless of your many dinner table disputes, competitively mutual love interests, and alcohol induced fist fights – you’ll remain tethered to for life. After all, as the old truism goes, “friends are the family that you’ve chosen yourself”, and we’re all too stubborn to ever admit we’re wrong. But it’s the fact that you’ve been so far together, the inherent competitiveness, and total lack of a façade which makes the relationship so authentic. You can’t hide behind a veil with the one person who knows how to rip it off like a raw Band-Aid.

This all forms the basis for The Climb, Michael Angelo Covino’s buddy comedy, listed under Un Certain Regard at this year’s Festival de Cannes. It’s an incredibly nuanced, funny, and genuine look into the life-long friendship of two American men. Constructed of a series of chronological vignettes, which are predominantly shot as real-time long takes, we’re given a peek into the nuanced, often ridiculous situations that Mike (Michael Angelo Covino) and Kyle (Kyle Marvin) find themselves in together.  It’s very warts-n’-all, emphasising the glaring imperfections and farcical nature of their relationship – not only to great comedic effect, but also as a vector to explore wider moral issues, such as alcoholism, anxiety and depression.

Much like Ladj Ly’s Les Miserables, The Climb was gestated based on a shorter proof of concept – an eight-minute short film which Covino’s feature transplants almost shot-for-shot into the film’s introduction. Mike and Kyle ride bicycles in the French mountains, a fairly mundane setup, enjoyable for the sheer aesthetic beauty of the landscape, upheld by stunning cinematography. They exchange a bottle of juice. They chat about how gorgeous the mountains are. But then, out of nowhere, Mike drops a dramatic bomb: he’s been sleeping with Kyle’s long-time girlfriend. As furious as Kyle is, he’s physically unable to pick up the pace to catch Mike, being incredibly unfit, left in a sweaty mess. It’s a hilarious image which sets a high bar for the rest of the film.

While the writing is largely successful, Covino and Marvin – who co-wrote the screenplay over the course of a few years, although allegedly not autobiographical, Covino claiming that their relationship has taken more from the screenplay than vice versa – have some clear pitfalls in terms of characterisation. While Mike and Kyle constitute solidly written, intriguing protagonists, the surrounding ensemble and supporting players are little more than stock. Women get a particularly cold shoulder, too; although I’m inclined to believe that the writers are self-aware of their shortcomings here, as evidenced by a twist in the second vignette which defines the rest of the film.

Despite this, the duo is clearly talented when it comes to dialogue and narrative structure. There’s little here that feels redundant. And while the wider ensemble is little more than stock, I wonder how much these characters need to actually hold any depth or specificity, given that The Climb is first-and-foremost about Kyle and Mike. Everything else is ancillary. It certainly doesn’t impact the conversation on male friendship which Covino and Marvin are keen to hold.

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