Two equally obnoxious caricatures squabble and sulk until they finally see the lovey-dovey light in Tumbledown, a contrived indie rom-com that has the distinction of making the charming Rebecca Hall and amusing Jason Sudeikis thoroughly unlikable. Sean Mewshaw’s film concerns a New York City professor and writer named Andrew (Sudeikis) who travels to Maine to work with Hannah (Hall) on a joint biography about her deceased husband, who released a classic album of stripped-down Nick Drake-ish folk ballads before his untimely death. What follows is little more than a series of clichés, from the tale’s dreary urban-vs.-rural dynamics, to its collection of kooky friends and relatives, to one character’s climactic race to stop another character from leaving because they finally realize that true love can’t be denied, and that you have to seize precious opportunities for happiness. Also, a dog farts in Sudeikis’ face.
There’s isn’t an original or authentic moment to be found in Mewshaw’s film, which operates from the initially repellent characterization of Hannah as a hermit-like widow clinging so tightly to the past that she spends her days hanging out by her spouse’s tombstone; she rejects the obvious fact that he committed suicide (she contends he just slipped while hiking on a favorite mountain trail in the middle of the night), and opts for casual sex with a hunky hunter (Joe Manganiello) instead of seeking a serious relationship. Hannah’s obstinate refusal to move on is supposed to be both endearingly cute and poignant, but it comes across as merely off-putting, marking her as a pathetic, emotionally recalcitrant shut-in whose only goal in life is to lay sole, permanent claim to her husband’s memory.
On the evidence of his tunes, Hannah’s spouse was a generic coffee shop-grade crooner, and thus undeserving of the musical-genius adulation he receives from both Hannah and Andrew. That unavoidable fact goes a long way toward undercutting Tumbledown’s central conceit, in which Andrew—who teaches pop culture classes at Hofstra about Biggie Smalls and what it means to “hinge your street cred on your own mortal evanescence”—decides to abandon his NYC girlfriend (Dianna Agron) to stay with Hannah to write about the artist. Everyone in the film seems to be making much ado out of not-very-much, which is almost as intolerable as the culture-clash comedic scenarios devised for Andrew by director Mewshaw and writer Desiree Van Til. A big word-flaunting academic who arrives in this backwater enclave on a motorcycle, Andrew gets to spar with Manganiello’s nature boy, pal around with Hannah’s colorful book store owner friend (Griffin Dunne), make an ass of himself in front of Hannah’s mother (a gratingly flustered Blythe Danner) and father (Richard Masur), and be mocked by cartoonish country folk for being what he is: a smug urban know-it-all.
Tumbledown spends an inordinate amount of time having Hannah and Andrew engage in odd-couple bickering, as well as fawn over anecdotes, journals and long-lost recordings of Hannah’s husband. Consequently, the protagonists are forced to follow a formulaic path—in which antagonism slowly gives way to amour, then romance-threatening complications, then happily-ever-after reconciliation—while simultaneously prattling on about the greatness of Hannah’s dead spouse. The effect is both unseemly and preposterous, and made all the more ridiculous by the idea that the best way for Hannah to get on with her life is to shack up with a smarmy egotistical intellectual who worshipped her hubby as much as she did.
Sudeikis works overtime trying to make Andrew’s sarcastic haughtiness and wink-wink self-deprecation amusing, but the character is insufferable from the start. Hall, meanwhile, is stuck embodying such a tired type—a woman who’s messy, damaged, essentially good-hearted, and lacking any self-awareness—that there’s no verve to the performance, just a series of mannered tics and poses borrowed from superior rom-coms. The same can be said about Tumbledown as a whole, especially during a conclusion that so diligently embraces its genre’s stalest trope that it’s not clear if the filmmakers mean for it to play as parody—or if they simply ran out of ideas.
Director: Sean Mewshaw
Writer: Desiree Van Til
Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Rebecca Hall, Joe Manganiello, Griffin Dunne, Blythe Danner, Richard Masur, Dianna Agron
Release Date: February 5, 2016