PLOT A failed stand-up comedian returns home to Long Beach and becomes friends with an alcoholic dermatologist.
CAST Ben Schwartz, Billy Crystal, Eloise Mumford, Grace Gummer
PLAYING AT Cinema Village, Manhattan and on video on demand
BOTTOM LINE Billy Crystal is great but the movie plays like yet another "Garden State" retread.
The "Garden State" story template arrives on Long Island in "Standing Up, Falling Down," in which a 30-something who could not hack it on the Los Angeles stand-up comedy scene returns home to Long Beach and becomes friends with an alcoholic dermatologist.
There's far less of the cloying whimsy that defined Zach Braff's 2004 generational touchstone, in large part thanks to a grounded performance by Long Beach's own Billy Crystal as the dermatologist Marty. But the movie from director Matt Ratner and Levittown-raised screenwriter Peter Hoare covers well-worn territory without generating much of a compelling reason for the audience to join them on it.
Ben Schwartz stars as Scott, the seriously untalented comedian who bottoms out on the West Coast and sheepishly reemerges in his childhood home, where his father (Kevin Dunn) barely acknowledges his presence, his mom (Debra Monk) has a habit of barging in on him and his sister (Grace Gummer) still lives in her room and loves to bicker. Outside the house are reminders of heartbreak and sadness, personified in Scott's lost love Becky (Eloise Mumford).
From Scott's perspective, then, there's a lot of appeal in hanging out with Marty. The latter is both desperately lonely and painstakingly outgoing, the life of the party at the local bar who then goes home and eats a pancake by himself while re-watching the Mets' 1986 World Series triumph for the ten-thousandth time. He gets so drunk he mistakes the bathroom sink for a urinal but still diagnoses a rash on Scott's arm as requiring a visit to the office.
It's a perfect part for Crystal, who doesn't act much these days. If there's any reason to see this movie, which opens Friday at Cinema Village in Manhattan and on video on demand, it's to experience another one of his first-rate performances. It clearly meant a lot to the hometown kid to return to Long Beach for the project and he brings a seemingly effortless mix of intelligence, charm and sadness to the character.
Schwartz and Crystal share some low-key scenes together over the course of the movie that are warm and affecting. They bond over a shared set of diminished expectations for the future, the sense that things have gone so wrong for so long that there is little hope for improvement, but you still might as well make the most of the gift of being alive.
The problems arise when the movie deviates from that central relationship and fails to find much of a reason to make us care about Scott's story. There's nothing about him that makes him worthy of being at the center of a movie and his problems overall seem pedestrian and familiar. The better film would have shifted the focus to Marty and given Crystal even more of a chance to show what he can do on-screen.