Film Review: Tumbledown (★★★)

tumbledownThere’s a very specific vibe that runs throughout Tumbledown, a melancholic romantic dramedy of sorts that sports a memorably unobtrusive soundtrack and a winning performance from Jason Sudeikis. This is a very mellow picture, one that seeks to capture the mood of what the love of a musician can do to you, both in terms of their music and also their actual love. Sudeikis is tasked with a bit more of a dramatic role than usual, which actually plays perfectly into his skill set. Filmmakers Sean Mewshaw and Desiree Van Til definitely have a sense of what kind of feelings they want to elicit out of you, and if they periodically delve into cliches, they still do it with their hearts very much in the right place. Watching two wounded individuals bond over their shared (if different) admiration of someone can be a concept with limited potential, but they manage to avoid the most annoying tropes of the sub-genre, leading to something very enjoyable. Tumbledown is limited in ambition and scope, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. Mewshaw and Van Til had a movie in their heads that they set out to make, and frankly, they made it. This film isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly full of far more positives than negatives. Will the flick blow you away? No. Will it entertain? Yes. If you like mellow tales with good music, then Tumbledown should be for you.

The film begins by introducing us to Hannah (Rebecca Hall) a woman who is clearly struggling to get over the death of her husband. That would be overwhelming on its own, but her husband happened to be a cult favorite cult singer, along the lines of a Jeff Buckley (or you can imagine a less hardcore Kurt Cobain), so it’s even tougher. She has his music, a single album, but so does the world, so she often spends time fending off journalists and cleaning up his gravesite. As such, when college professor and writer Andrew McDonnell (Sudeikis) comes calling, the still grieving widow is having none of it. In fact, she’s planning to write her own biography of her husband, but when that proves overwhelming and she reads a bit of Andrew’s highly flattering and perceptive analysis of the music, she recruits him to co-author. Having Andrew shacked up to dig into the past with her gets the small town Hannah lives in buzzing, from her friend with benefits Curtis (Joe Manganiello) to her mother Ellen (Blythe Danner). You can more or less see where this is going, but the pleasure here is in watching how it all comes about, give or take an ending that doesn’t quite stick the landing.

tumbledown movieBetween this and last year’s Sleeping with Other People, Jason Sudeikis is becoming one of my favorite romantic leading men. He’s a gifted comedian, but he also has a winning everyman persona that can remind me at times of a young Tom Hanks, back when he was doing rom-coms. He has strong chemistry with Rebecca Hall, while also hinting at a darker past involving his late father, one that colors his perspective on Hannah’s husband and the music. Without question, this is one of the best performances of Sudeikis’ career so far. Hall is strong as well, taking a few unique routes in displaying a long term grieving process. The script occasionally throws her around without fully earning the jolt, but by and large, she’s very good as well. Together, they’re quite enjoyable to watch kinda sorta fall in love. The supporting cast is solid enough, from the aforementioned Blythe Danner and Joe Manganiello to others like Dianna Agron, Griffin Dunne, Richard Masur, and more, but they’re very much in the background. This movie belongs to Hall and especially Sudeikis, without question.

Co-writer/director Sean Mewshaw has teamed with writing/producing partner Desiree Van Til to craft something a bit old fashioned here. Tumbledown is the sort of sensitive little flick you just sort of get comfortable with. It’s the cinematic equivalent of hot chocolate and an old sweater by the fire. The music is the behind the scenes highlight, as composer Daniel Hart and musician Damien Jurado team to form a winning soundtrack. They help you to understand why this artist would mean so much to folks. It’s in the background, but I’d argue it does a better job overall than Mewshaw or Van Til would have done on their own (though the screenplay does pepper in some very moving lines and love and what it means to miss someone). The cinematography by Seamus Tierney is crisp and highlights the small town well, but it’s the music that mixes best with the acting here. In fact, I have a hunch that this will remain one of my favorite soundtracks throughout the entire year.

Overall, I can’t call Tumbledown an unqualified success, as it adheres a lot to formula and stumbles late in the third act, but the good very much outweighs the bad. Especially if you like Sudeikis, you’ll enjoy seeing a different side of him in this one. It’s a mellow movie, so keep that in mind, but it’s a good one. As long as you don’t have incredibly high or unrealistic expectations for the flick, it should satisfy. Tumbledown isn’t going to be an awards player or anything of the sort this year, but it’s a solid indie film that is well worth your time.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!