The Climb is, essentially, a bickering bromance as two longtime pals bicker bromantically down the years, and it doesn’t sound like a film you’d especially wish to see and it didn’t sound like a film I’d especially wish to see. Bromances are bad enough, so God save us from a bickering one. But it’s actually quite the marvel: original, sometimes absurdist, touching, funny, and it also takes male friendship seriously, which is a novelty. So you do wish to see it. You just didn’t know till now.
It was written by Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin, directed by Covino, produced by Covino and Marvin (among others) and stars Covino and Marvin who play characters called Mike and Kyle. You could never say the two, who initially met while working in advertising, aren’t all over this project. The film opens audaciously with a single take of several minutes as Mike and Kyle are on a bike trip and cycling uphill when Mike tells Kyle he’s slept with the woman Kyle is due to marry. The joke is that, at this point in their lives, Mike is fitter than Kyle and, as much as Kyle puffs — and puffs and puffs and even tries running with the bike hoisted over his shoulder — he can’t catch up with Mike to beat seven bells out of him.
It’s a wonderful scene that only improves when they are overtaken by a group of extremely fast cyclists and Mike tries to keep up with them in that alpha male way which makes me laugh whenever I see it for real, and made me laugh here. But, more importantly, you are already intrigued and want to know: what is this friendship? And where will it go?
Quite a few places, it turns out. Funerals, weddings, Thanksgivings, ski trips, the works. But this is told episodically, in chapters, as we visit the pair, who have known each other since childhood, at various times. The action may be set two years hence and then three years after that. Nothing is ever spelled out so we’re always trying to figure out why Mike is now the fatter, less-fit one, for example. It’s an American film but in its lack of exposition it does feel very French, which isn’t typical of most bromances. (It isn’t typical of Step Brothers, for instance. Or Superbad.) The characters, meanwhile, always stay truthful to who they are meant to be. Kyle is affable, a bit of a man-child, whereas Mike is disruptive, even toxic, but you can always sense the intense loneliness underneath.
And you understand why they need each other, which doesn’t mean they don’t fall out, as they do, particularly when Kyle becomes engaged again, this time to Marissa (Gayle Rankin), who is a proper female character, praise be. Plus it is always inventive. It’s structurally inventive, with each chapter beginning or ending with an absurdist twist, which works like a palette cleanser between courses. Also, the camera work is often striking. A Christmas party at Kyle’s family home is done in a single take circling the house and framing the characters through the windows. Have I sold it to you yet? If not, it’s sometimes just the comedy that is sublime. There’s a snowy kidnapping scene that’s worth the ticket price alone.
I’m not sure what we’re meant to take away from it. That a friendship can be the big love of your life? That friends you have known forever form part of you, and can’t be ditched, even if it might be better if they were? (We all have friends like that. Unless you are that friend.) But for the moment, all you need to take away is the fact that you’re not going to get a better spin on a bromance. Brobably.
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