In the Woody Allen tradition, director/co-writer Michael Angelo Covino also stars in his feature film debut, and he’s not the most likable fellow in the movie. That would be “Kyle,” played by co-writer Kyle Marvin, a sweet, hapless guy who’s stuck with Covino’s Mike as his best friend. The movie begins with the titular mountain bike ride, during which Mike confesses his affair with Kyle’s fiancée. It is, one might say, all downhill from there.
The Climb is an audacious work, as Covino not only asks audiences to have sympathy for his noxious character but also to have patience with his determination to shoot every scene in one long, unedited take (with a few clever cheats). It’s an impressive feat in early scenes: the bike climb, a hospital visit, a graveside funeral. As the movie goes on, however, the gimmick can be distracting, especially a holiday gathering that’s filmed largely from outside the house, through windows.
The purpose of long-take scenes is to put viewers more firmly within the time and space of the film (think 1917), and to give weight to human interactions that build intensity without interruption (think Rope). If viewers spend more time watching the camera choreography than the characters (think Birdman), the director is arguably just showing off.
In The Climb, Covino wrestles himself to a draw: After a clumsily staged New Year’s Eve fracas, he calms things down and lets his characters breathe. A terrific wedding sequence is followed by several warm, appealing codas. The movie’s theme — how a toxic friendship can be both destructive and inescapable — comes through strongly, and the performances gel. Gayle Rankin (Netflix‘s “GLOW,” HBO‘s “Perry Mason”) is solid as Kyle’s oft-exasperated girlfriend.
Conscious of his own pretentiousness, Covino also throws in some comic musical breaks, played directly to the camera — a clear wink of self-awareness to the audience. Even so, this is a comedy that will inspire more chuckles of mild recognition than out-and-out laughs. It is, in the end, worth “the climb,” but it’s not always easy going.
Starts Nov. 13 at AMC River Hills 10