The Climb is an outlier in the modern American comedy landscape, in that it actually seems to have been directed. It’s an epic tale of a toxic bromance, divided up into several chapters, and each one appears to unfold in one or two continuous takes. Normally, this might be cause for concern – long takes tend to be praised for their technical difficulty, but they’re often just an opportunity to show off at the expense of every other filmic ingredient on the palate. However, first-time feature director Michael Angelo Covino, also playing one of the leads, fills his scenes with life and detail, and doesn’t forget the value of good comedic timing.
Take the first scene, for example. Mike (Covino) and Kyle (Kyle Marvin, also a co-writer) are buddies who’ve gone for a cycle ride in the hills of France. Mike waits until they’re going up a steep hill to reveal that he’s slept with Kyle’s fiancé, so that Kyle can’t catch him up; the dynamic changes so that Kyle starts chasing Mike, as passing cyclists and cars interject on the action at the worst possible moments. Covino earns big laughs by following after one character, then swinging the camera back to the previous set-up to reveal how something’s changed, and the performances – particularly among Covino and Marvin, but also GLOW star Gayle Rankin as their high-school acquaintance Marissa – are so lived-in that everything flows naturally.
The time jumps between chapters are surprising; we keep expecting the film to run out of steam, but it never quite does what you expect it to, swerving away from the obvious path and deepening its character dynamics at every turn. It avoids easy sentiment by stressing how toxic a character Mike is, and why the affable (to a fault) Kyle is drawn to him. Rankin is also a great foil for them both, providing a spiky female perspective to an otherwise deeply male film about deeply male men.
But again, it’s the filmmaking that’s key, and hopefully ensures that Covino is set to have a prolific career. It’s ridiculous to suggest that peppering a film with ambitious shots makes it more valuable than, say, something from the no-budget mumblecore movement. But his approach cedes much creative control to the actors. And not just to the leads; like Jonathan Demme, Covino gives everyone a personality and moment, including Kyle’s extended family, who gather manically for holiday meals. Even a guy waiting for his coffee is given a nickname and his own tracking shot. And Covino includes a lovely interlude in a cinema and a very funny climactic homage to The Graduate. Aside from some slightly irritating musical montages in between chapters, this is top-tier independent filmmaking and a major highlight of this year’s Cannes.
The Climb does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from The Climb here: