Hall and Sudeikis are cute but won't make hearts skip beats in this sweet and simple rom-com.
Tumbledown (Tribeca Review)
Jason Sudeikis is primed this year to be our ’90s rom-com Tom Hanks if we let him. With two romantic comedies out, both of which played at Tribeca, he’s smoothly proving he is up to the challenge of being a leading, wooing man. With the upcoming Sleeping With Other People, he has the sexy friendship-turned-romantic bit down à la Tom Hank’s in You’ve Got Mail, (though decidedly more modern and with a lot more sex), and in Tumbledown he zones in on the hopeless widower meets potential enemy turned love interest like Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle—but with the roles reversed and more antagonistic. Ok, so he’s not as wholesome-sex-symbol as Hanks, but when it comes to melding the old rom with the new com, he does an excellent job. Unfortunately the sparse and rather predictable small-town comedy of Tumbledown isn’t much for Sudeikis to work with, and he’s not even this film’s leading role.
Rebecca Hall is the film’s lead, playing Hannah, the widow of an Iron and Wine-style folk musician named Hunter with a huge following. It’s been a few years since his death and, as a sometime writer and journalist, she decides to try and tackle writing his biography. She spends a lot of time in their wooden lake cabin in Maine, near the town she grew up in, hanging with her two pit bulls and occasionally getting it on with local meathead Curtis (Joe Manganiello). Almost immediately after delving into the biography, a new guy shows up in town, Sudeikis’s Andrew McDonnell, an academic with a passion for Hunter’s music. He’s been leaving Hannah messages, which, if she hadn’t ignored them, would have tipped her off that Andrew is also starting a biography of Hunter. Immediately defensive, and because people don’t act all that rashly in rom-coms, she steals Andrew’s writing journal from his hotel and begrudgingly realizes he’s a pretty great writer. But she sends him packing anyway, determined to do this herself.
Griffin Dunne plays her friend, a bookstore owner, and the local newspaperman. When she hands off her first few pages of the book, he gives her some honest feedback. She has a series of memories, but they don’t a good book make. So Hannah hires Andrew to write the book with her. He moves in temporarily to get to work, and there is immediate animosity between the two. Hannah isn’t quite sensitive enough to his ego and he’s a little too familiar and assuming when it comes to discussing her dead husband.
Together they (of course) discover a few new things about Hunter, and each other. The real lessons lie in Andrew’s assumptions about Hunter, entirely based on his own life hardships and the way he thinks a talented musician’s life should look. Hannah has the expected problem of letting go of her dead husband.
Hall and Sudeikis have a reasonable amount of chemistry in the film. Their characters play into a few devices, but there are enough outside revelations to maintain interest in their ongoing story. Hall, who seems best when playing endearingly difficult, is easy to like. But, as sometimes happens, her own personality is shadowed by the interestingness of her dead husband. If first timer Sean Mewshaw (along with screenwriter Desiree Van Til) had thought to include more back story about what brought Hunter and Hannah together, it may have helped round her out a bit.
Dianna Agron shows up as Andrew’s throw-away girlfriend, a useless character meant only to contrast with how different she is from Hannah. And Blythe Danner and Richard Masur are charming as Hannah’s parents, if only given about one scene apiece of meaty material.
Tumbledown is tender, but not compelling. It’s a comedy where the tension is far more interesting to watch than the eventual coming together. The more dramatic bits, focusing on Hunter’s death and the impact of losing the love of one’s life, provoke the most emotional response, whereas the romance playing out seems to pale in comparison to the one Hannah already had. The music of the film, sung by Damien Jurado, is sad, lilting, and makes Hunter an easily believable genius. All of the elements making up Hannah—her community, family, and past—make the film a cute watch. Her progressing relationship with Andrew doesn’t compel quite as much as the rest. Overall, Tumbledown is a pleasant and sweet tempered film, and Hall and Sudeikis are lovely though simple in it, but it certainly isn’t aiming to be one of the great roms or coms of the century.