Four suicidal strangers meet on the same popular leapers’ spot on New Year’s Eve, make a connection, postpone their plans to kill themselves and form their own protective, oddball surrogate family, in an adaptation of a darkly comic Nick Hornby novel.
In the comedic annals of meeting cute, we do have to hand it to A Long Way Down for an offbeat, if tasteless, contrivance for causing disparate characters to collide. On New Year’s Eve, Pierce Brosnan’s disgraced TV presenter Martin — whose marriage and career are in ruins since he went to prison for having sex with a minor — ascends to the top of a London skyscraper and prepares to splatter himself on the pavement far below. But before he does, another three jumpers-in-waiting arrive (what’re the odds?) and ruin his moment, intruding with their own self-destructive intentions. There is Toni Collette’s Maureen, the worn-out single mother of a severely disabled son. There is Aaron Paul’s J. J., a failed musician-turned-pizza deliverer. And there is Imogen Poots’ desperately wacky Jess, the troubled wild child of a prominent MP (Sam Neill, what are you doing in this?).
After wrestling around on the roof and revealing their individual woes, the quartet take an impulsive, sympathetic interest in each other. They agree to hold off on suicide until Valentine’s Day, separately stalking each other to see how everyone is doing, and collectively deciding to jet to Tenerife to escape the media attention their pact has attracted since one of them sold a crazy story — an angel who looked like Matt Damon saved them on the rooftop — to the tabloids.
Hornby’s novel, published in 2005, had a mixed reception but was snapped up by Johnny Depp, who did not make the film after all. Lucky for him. Narrated in turns by the four main characters this struggles with tone from the off, plays treacly slow and is never even faintly amusing as it lurches from one individual’s crisis to another's. And talk about simplistic! Apparently if you’re feeling like jumping off a tall building, all you need is some equally unhappy mates, new interests, a dash of hope, and life seems worth living. Any satirical intent is lost, the actors of obvious ability and/or charm working terribly hard to make it watchable. It’s no surprise we get to the next New Year’s Eve, by which time one has long been wishing they had jumped.
Trivialising despair, it’s a depressing waste of a major cast, and an early bid for mess of the year.