France. The part with all the mountains. Two men are cycling uphill and chatting in English. Through their talk we learn that they are Mike and Kyle, who are in town to prepare for Kyle’s wedding. As they approach a particular steep bit, Mike mentions, as if in passing, that he’s slept with Kyle’s fiancée. More than once. He then speeds off towards an altercation with a French motorists.
This is a film directed by a guy called Mike (Michael Angelo Covino), which he wrote and directed with a guy called Kyle (Kyle Marvin). It’s about a pair of guys called Mike and Kyle. It’s largely a guys’ film about male bonding, which is nothing that has ever interested me that much, so I went with a sense of foreboding. But any film recommended by Wulf from the Moviemento Kino is always worth a go.
We follow Mike and Kyle through hospital, a funeral, a family Thanksgiving, a ski holiday, a pregnancy, a wedding ceremony and a break up, while various other characters walk on- and off-stage. Most noticeable of these is Marissa (Gayle Rankin), an old flame of Kyle’s to whom he gets engaged, partly because if she’s there, he doesn’t have to make any decisions of his own.
As the film progresses, Mike gets seedier, drinks more, puts on weight and regularly gets into pointless fights. Kyle indulges him even when he occasionally gets drawn into the fights himself. Meanwhile, Kyle gets slightly more assertive – under the influence of Marissa he even once manages to say “No” to his domineering family. But ultimately he seeks the path of least resistance where he doesn’t have to displease anyone.
Given the overwhelming concentration on the guys, you might think that Marissa would be a cypher, but she’s a fully rounded character. You get the feeling that her youthful dreams never involved marrying someone like Kyle, but he seems to be the best thing on offer at the moment. So she realises that she has to battle Mike for the attentions of the man they both, sort of, love.
Ultimately, the format meant that I never fully went with this film – I could never raise enough empathy or enmity for any of the characters for me to be able to feel deeply for them either way. And yet, while I didn’t love The Climb, there’s a lot in it to be admired.
For a start, there are technical achievements, with a lot of difficult tracking shots, but more importantly it also has a soul. So, while I couldn’t feel strongly about Mike, Kyle and Marissa, I did believe in them. Maybe because Covino and Marvin go way back, but also because they and Rankin are all very good actors.
The film is able to seriously look into the conflict caused by supporting your best mate to the death, even though you know that he is a bit of an arsehole. It does this with very little sentimentality. There are fleeting moments of happiness, but you never get the feeling that a happy scene has been contrived just to pacify the audience. Plus, there are some very funny gags.
The Climb is indubitably good at what it does, but what is that exactly? In the times of #metoo and the Bechdel test, do we really need another film about the anxieties of white middle class men. Yes, there is a female character who actually has thoughts and feelings, but her main role in the film is to act as a potential barrier to Mike and Kyle’s ongoing bromance.
Notwithstanding all this, do give The Climb a go. It is genial and well-acted and as well as a few laugh-out loud moments. Not least, the scenes where someone makes an impassioned speech, oblivious to the fact that the person they are talking to is offstage, pursued by a bear or equivalent (honestly, they do work surprizingly well).
What’s more, because of the film’s episodic format, if one scene doesn’t quite work, there’s a better one coming up just in a minute.