“The Climb” – “In order to get people to love you, you’ve got to get some people to hate you.” – Robert Braathe
Kyle (Kyle Marvin) and Mike (Michael Angelo Covino) are pals.
More than pals, these two 30-somethings are BFFs, and in fact, Mike is Kyle’s best man. Kyle is marrying Ava (Judith Godreche), who is French, and all three – and presumably, family and other friends – are in France for the wedding.
Happy days are here!
As the movie opens, Mike, an avid cyclist, invites Kyle on a ride through the French Alps, which trips up the future-groom because he’s a little out of shape. He has a John C. Reilly-like build, and incidentally, he resembles and somewhat-speaks like the famous actor, and Mike is a dead ringer for Oscar Isaac. Unfortunately, Kyle’s best man quasi-acts like Llewyn Davis from “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013), so yes, he’s self-destructive and leaves a trail of hurt feelings in his wake.
On this particular bike climb through steep inclines and declines, Mike confesses to a transgression (that will not be named in this review), which sabotages their friendship, and throughout director/co-writer Covino’s whip-smart 94-minute comedy, we rightly assume that this wasn’t the first time…nor the last.
Memories of “The Climb” should last long past the end credits because Covino and his co-star/co-writer Marvin pen a hilarious slice of life. Kyle and Mike – a pair of matter-of-fact, dysfunctional Average Joes – not only struggle on a mountain or two but also through the ups and downs of their first three decades (and change) on Planet Earth.
Even though our heroes fully embark on this European wedding/holiday, they generally don’t venture too far from their small Upstate, N.Y. town, where nuclear families remain close, both figuratively and literally. You see, frequent get-togethers are not optional celebrations. Sure, everyone knows your name but also all your secrets and most tender vulnerabilities. Both Kyle and Mike suffer from low self-esteem, and while the former buddy doubles as an emotional punching bag, the latter delivers some of the blows, but not entirely on purpose. It’s just Mike’s nature to wildly careen into oncoming traffic, selfishly strain relationships, and disrupt delicate harmony.
A typical day for Mike might include oversleeping for work, calling an ex-girlfriend, begging her to come back, stopping by Kyle’s house to reminisce about high school parties, and passing out on the couch.
That’s a painfully lengthy day for anyone, but “The Climb” pleasantly features several long takes, including the opening sequence and many other intricate scenes with several moving parts, like a makeshift bachelor party and holiday events. For instance, Covino’s camera moves throughout Kyle’s parents’ house on Thanksgiving, including basement shenanigans and a sea of humanity milling about the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Kyle’s mom and sisters Dani and Bianca gossip about his relationship with Marissa (Gayle Rankin), who no one likes, by the way, and George Wendt also makes a welcome appearance as Kyle’s father. He’s fairly inept at carving the turkey, but Dear Old Dad can weigh in on Syracuse University’s football program better than Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit. These moments and many others feel wholly authentic, comfortable, and familiar, even though the audience – including this critic – might feel PTSD with the movie’s nosy siblings and triggering buddies.
Covino and Marvin are good friends in real life, and in a March 2020 interview, they discuss their on-screen rapport.
“We have that easy sort of dynamic, and we’re close, so that allowed us to find a natural rhythm to the friendship in the film,” Covino says.
Accompanied by the movie’s chapter format – with titles like “I’m sorry”, “It’s broken”, and “Stop it” – Kyle and Mike’s friendship carries a quick-witted, conversational tempo into various, linear life cycle stages that keep us in suspense. Will Kyle and Mike slowly fall upwards – both individually and together – or will they forever be stuck in first gear? “The Climb” has a “Sideways” (2004)-vibe with an indie budget, although the crew did shoot in France and ironically, a French film playing at a Chatham, N.Y. movie theatre, so Covino, Marvin, and the team took some chances.
Chances are that you’ll really admire “The Climb”. These flawed on-screen underdogs offer an enjoyable trip with plenty of laughs and winces along the way, because hey, friendship is sometimes a rocky ride.
⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image and Trailer credits: Sony Pictures Classics