There’s something to be said for subtlety. God knows there are few movies that exhibit this trait, buried under the incredibly ham-fisted dialogue and poor casting of Hollywood-produced romances. Such films are often exercises in the lowest-common-denominator plotting. Romantic dramedies are hardly the world’s most subtle cinematic genre. About 85 percent are adapted from Nicholas Sparks novels, and feature a story so thin and dialogue so painful it could be considered cruel and unusual punishment by the Geneva Convention.
“Tumbledown” is something of a pleasant surprise—a movie about love that has all the staples of a love story but refuses to embrace the broader tone such movies often carry. There were a lot of moments I could see coming. Scenes felt familiar in similar movies, but rather than playing it up, director Sean Mewshaw plays everything at an even keel. Even the most over-the-top moments seem genuine in a way so many other romantic comedies don’t.
Hannah (Rebecca Hall) lives in rural Maine and is trying to get over the death of her husband—a musician who had acquired a cult following. His gravesite is frequently visited by fans, who drop off notes, mementos and occasional bottles of liquor. Hannah still very much lives in the epic shadow he cast—enthralled by music he created. There’s a very big hole left in his absence. One particular hole is filled by local utility worker Curtis (Joe Manganiello), who has developed a friends-with-benefits relationship with Hannah. She has constructed the basic tenants on an existence: food, shelter, occasional human contact, but she’s still stuck in a rut.
The rut is challenged by Andrew McDonnell (Jason Sudeikis)—an aspiring writer and associate professor who is obsessed with Hannah’s late husband and what will become of his legacy. Hannah has been trying to write a biography about her husband, but struggles to write anything she believes encapsulates everything he was. Their relationship is strained at first. She’s convinced Andrew is another muckraker looking to write some tabloid garbage. Andrew’s devotion to Hannah’s late husband’s career serves as another reminder of everything she has lost. They both put aside their differences to collaborate on a book as Andrew moves into Hannah’s remote lake cabin.
It’s an interesting set up. Like a posthumous “The End of the Tour,” where a writer digs through the life of a tortured artist after they’ve gone. Hannah is reluctant to share everything. She keeps Andrew at arms’ length and only after some trust is built is she capable of sharing some of the more intimate truths about their relationship. It doesn’t help that Andrew believes the death of Hannah’s husband may have been suicide, instead of an unfortunate hiking accident that she and her family have come to accept.
There’s a lot to like about “Tumbledown.” Most notably a cast that brings a great deal of sincerity to the proceedings. Jason Sudeikis is doing a fine job of separating himself from crazy characters he portrayed on “Saturday Night Live.” He seems to be spending a lot of time recently trying to establish himself in more dramatic roles and doing it pretty well. Rebecca Hall is an actress I’m becoming a bigger fan of with each subsequent film. The small supporting cast is filled with spry performers like Manganiello, Griffin Dunne and Blythe Danner. The ice covered landscapes of Maine are beautifully filmed. I kept thinking about movies like “The Shipping News” or “The Proposal,” which effectively use “off the beaten path” as the backdrop for their stories.
The inevitable spark between Andrew and Hannah is telegraphed way in advance, but how they come together is handled in such a subtle, natural way. Nothing feels forced. Sudeikis and Hall have great chemistry and make the film feel like an anomaly in a sea of sub-par, substanceless romantic comedies. I wish more relationship movies took the “slow burn” approach. “Tumbledown” is an engaging, pleasant surprise. A romantic comedy that doesn’t feel idiotic or annoying. How often can you say that?
Available on iTunes, Google Play, and On Demand.