Review: The Climb — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

At times The Climb plays like a John Cassavetes movie shot by Jean-Luc Godard. But it serves as a constant reminder that life’s most meaningful relationships are here for the long haul, and we don’t get to cut away just to move the narrative along.

Kyle Marvin and Michael Angelo Covino in a scene from The Climb

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The Climb

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Rating: R

Run Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

Stars: Michael Angelo Covino, Kyle Marvin, Gayle Rankin, Judith Godrèche, George Wendt

Writers: Michael Angelo Covino, Kyle Marvin

Director: Michael Angelo Covino

In Theatres Nationwide

Films about male friendship — real, enduring, brotherly friendship — are hard to find. And although the relationship that unspools in The Climb is just about as dysfunctional as any you could imagine, the movie still gets to the heart of the strange bonds that define many long-term male friendships: fierce (if friendly) competition, occasional open warfare tempered by stubborn alliance under fire…and a shared mystification at the ways of women.

Very funny, a little sad, and ultimately enthralling, The Climb follows one such friendship over the course of 15 years or so, tracing its heaping helpings of betrayals, crises, breakups, and inevitable rapprochements.

Mike and Kyle (Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin, who also wrote the script) share a love of bicycling. We find them puffing their way up a mountain road outside of Cannes, France — a setting that Mike deems just the right one to confess he’s been sleeping with Kyle’s fiancée (Judith Godrèche). The scene — with Kyle shifting from shock to fury to forgiveness to renewed anger — provides a template for the entire film. From here on, we just know, selfish, irresponsible Mike is going to repeatedly sabotage his relationship with naive, big-hearted Kyle — a dynamic that will alternately test and temper their friendship.

Covino also directs the film, and his opening scene, unfolding in a single nine-minute tracking shot, also sets the visual style of The Climb. Although the story is presented in chapters, often separated by years, each segment is done as a single, uninterrupted shot through a camera that swoops, sails, and slides along with the characters. At times Covino uses the technique to exclude us from the action — as during a Christmas party, when the camera waltzes around the exterior of a house, capturing glimpses of activity and dialogue through the windows. Or else we get too close for comfort, pulling tightly into the faces of Mike and Kyle as they confront each other at a funeral — the other mourners huddling uncertainly, out of focus, in the background.

The film’s long tracking sequences are a risky creative choice, and at times The Climb plays like a John Cassavetes movie shot by Jean-Luc Godard. But it serves as a constant reminder that life’s most meaningful relationships are here for the long haul, and we don’t get to cut away just to move the narrative along. (On the other hand, this must have been a sweet assignment for editor Sara Shaw, who it appears had to make just a couple of dozen cuts for the entire film.)

The Climb’s strong supporting cast — including Cheers veteran George Wendt as Kyle’s jovial father — is asked to do little more than observe the action, offering friendly encouragement as our protagonists pedal through the Tour de France of life.

A character as exasperating as Mike could easily overstay his welcome in a film, but Covino knows precisely when to dial down his annoying impulses to reveal the damaged soul that drives him. Likewise, just when we’re about to write off Kyle as a spineless milquetoast, Marvin infuses him with a burst of energy that reveals not a lack of personal strength, but a spirit of steadfast generosity.

They make the oddest of odd couples. But then, as The Climb gently reminds us, if our friends were just like us, they’d be unnecessary.

Featured image: Kyle Marvin and Michael Angelo Covino in The Climb (photo by Zach Kuperstein, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics)

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