REVIEW: Once the dominant genre of American cinema (rivaled only by the western), romantic comedies have become something Hollywood’s having more and more trouble pulling off nowadays. They tend to be predictable, stale and fizzy – without any genuine romance or emotion contained within the slick, assembly line product they’ve become. The days of Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder are long gone. Moreover, a rom-com’s success or failure comes down to the chemistry between the two leads, a tough thing to pull off under the best of circumstances.
TUMBLEDOWN is a departure from the norm, being a romantic comedy with a heavy dose of drama, giving this more weight than is typical for the genre. An admirable effort that these days can only really exist outside of the studio system, TUMBLEDOWN is a low-key, heartfelt film. Still, there are things about it that keep it from being the Valentine’s Day sleeper couples are looking for.
Stars Rebecca Hall and Jason Sudeikis have some chemistry, but the premise itself is hard to swallow. The fact that Sudeikis is playing a pop culture scholar who views her late husband as a kind of rock deity makes him tough to swallow as a new romantic partner, especially as there’s always going to be this ghost between them. This could have been overcome if the romance didn’t feel rushed, with them only really warming up to each other in the last act – making their eventual pairing feel shoehorned in.
It’s weird that in a way, you almost actively root against the two pairing up as Sudeikis seems like such a poor match for the grieving Hall that you wish she’d stick with her occasional fling, a forest ranger played by Joe Manginello. At least he’s not obsessed with her husband. With Sudeikis she’ll never be able to move on, and even worse, it feels like the Sudeikis character is living out some kind of fan fantasy, seducing his hero’s widow and then – in a way – taking his place. It’s weird, although Sudeikis shows more charm here than he does usually, with the affected smarminess of his comedy performances toned way-down.
While actively rooting against the pair to hook up is a huge caveat for a rom-com, TUMBLEDOWN does have other things going for it. For one, the rural Maine locations are very evocative, giving TUMBLEDOWN a unique vibe as so many rom-coms are set against a bustling metropolis. The supporting cast is also very good, with Blythe Danner and Richard Masur extremely likable as Hall’s mother and father-in-law, and Griffin Dunne having a nice part as a local bookstore owner/confidant for Hall.
It’s hard to give TUMBLEDOWN a recommendation due to the fact that I spent so much of the running time hoping the central pair wouldn’t get together, but TUMBLEDOWN is still an admirable effort. It’s well-shot, with pretty locations and while I didn’t buy the romance Hall and Sudeikis are quite good. Considering how slim the pickings are for new romances this year at the multiplex, TUMBLEDOWN is a good VOD alternative. Heck, it’s a whole lot better than Nicholas Sparks!