“I saw a little hint of the comedian back at the bar,” Marty (Billy Crystal) tells Scott (Ben Schwartz) after the latter has returned from Los Angeles to his childhood home in Long Island In “Standing Up, Falling Down.” In fact, there are bits and pieces of the person Scott could be revealed throughout Matt Ratner’s bittersweet feature debut, but he is far too enmeshed in ideas of what once was, realizing he made the wrong choice by leaving home in the first place since it meant breaking up with his girlfriend Becks (Eloise Mumford) and the life of performing for pennies at coffee shops as a comedian wasn’t the life for him. With regrets aplenty, he appears to be far older than his 34 years and certainly older than Marty, who lurks around the neighborhood bars in a porkpie hat wondering why it isn’t karaoke night already, and belting out Republica’s “Ready to Run” when it finally is.
If the odd couple premise pairing Crystal and Schwartz in “Standing Up, Falling Down” sounds familiar, following Schwartz’s down-on-his-luck comic back to his roots, it’s a considerable credit to Ratner, writer Peter Hoare and a strong ensemble cast that that quality becomes a double-edged sword when the film takes on a natural, lived in quality that makes it a pleasure to watch, even if Scott is hardly having an easy go of it. You know as revulsed as he is by his initial encounter with Marty in a bathroom where he’s relieving himself in a sink after the urinal’s occupied, their paths will inevitably cross again, as early as the following morning when Marty turns out to be the local dermatologist who might have a salve for his stress hives. But whatever comic contrivances there are quickly give way to a lovely relationship that unfolds between the two, as Hoare crafts a number of good-natured but spiky exchanges for Scott to have with those who see his situation better than he does.
Crystal gets his share of licks in, as well as a meaty storyline involving his strained relationship with his own son (Nate Corddry), but the film generously gives everyone in Scott’s life a chance to razz him as well as full lives of their own, which he can look upon with some jealousy as he mulls over what’s missing in his. Grace Gummer is particularly radiant as his sister Megan while Kevin Dunn and Debra Monk strike just the right chord as his parents, at odds over the best way to encourage him when he has to figure things out for himself. Although Scott’s resistance to putting anything personal like that into his act is one reason he wasn’t ever likely to find professional success, “Standing Up, Falling Down” greatly benefits from feeling as if it’s the result of such an investment and in acknowledging that things don’t always work out, there’s a refreshing honesty to the film that makes the lack of a Hollywood ending just as satisfying as if there was.