Review: The Climb (2019)

STUDIO: Sony Pictures Classics | DIRECTOR: Michael Angelo Covino | CAST: Michael Angelo Covino, Kyle Marvin, Gayle Rankin, Judith Godrèche, Talia Balsam
RELEASE DATE: Nov. 13, 2020
SPECS: R | 94 min. | Comedy-drama

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie 

Because of the state of film exhibition these days, it’s been a rough, uphill road for the comedy-drama The Climb.

After receiving glowing response at a number of top film fests, including the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, The Climb was scheduled to open earlier in 2020, just about the time American theaters shut down because of COVID-19. Now the indie production is making its American debut in theaters, months after its initial theatrical target date.

Based on a short film that was shown at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and written and directed by lifelong friends, The Climb tells of the on-again, off-again relationship of close pals Michael (co-writer/director Michael Angelo Covino), a good-looking athletic guy, and nerdy, foggy-voiced  Kyle (co-writer Kyle Marvin). Presented as a series of chapters in the leading characters’ lives, the film gets off to a bang as a secret is made known while on a biking trip in Normandy: Michael has been sleeping with Kyle’s French girlfriend (Judith Godrèche, Potiche).

The revelation serves as a set-up for the edgy, funny and often bittersweet travails of Kyle and Michael over the years. The two men weave in and out of each other’s lives, but often awkwardly encounter each other at events–ski trips, funerals, ice fishing bachelor parties and a hectic Thanksgiving dinner where Mike is recruited to ruin the engagement of Kyle’s old girlfriend (Gayle Rankin, The Greatest Showman).  Adding laughs to the Thanksgiving scene is the presence of George Wendt (Sandy Wexler) and Talia Balsam (Little Men) as Kyle’s unpredictable parents.

The Climb is smartly written, filled with snappy dialogue and oddball behavior that subverts familiar situations. It’s also well-photographed, boasting unusual tracking shots and longer-than-expected takes. Amidst Michael and Kyle’s banter during these takes, there’s always a hint that trouble is just around the corner. And it usually is.

There’s a definite nostalgic Big Chill vibe that permeates this bromance. In lieu of American oldies on the soundtrack, however, we get emotional ballads performed in French by the late singer/composer Gilbert Bécaud .

While relative newcomers Covino and Marvin should be applauded for making their characters fallible and not very likable at times, they are not all that interesting, either. As proven here, there’s a thin line between shtick and genuine introspection, and this film has a habit of substituting the former for the latter.

Nevertheless, The Climb is being hailed as one of the top indie efforts of the year, and will likely receive some love on year-end top ten lists and in upcoming Zoom-enhanced award ceremonies.

We have to say that we like quite a bit of what’s in the film, but there are character issues here that make parts of it an uphill climb.

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.