Although the comedy/drama “Standing Up, Falling Down” is a 2020 theatrical release, it has the comfort-viewing vibe of a VHS copy of a movie from a generation ago — the kind of film you’d watch with your parents or grandparents to kill time on a visit back home.
That’s not an insult or a slight. There’s something wonderful, albeit borderline shameless, about a movie that gives Billy Crystal a hall pass to indulge his corniest instincts, from his character’s gimmicky hat to his karaoke scenes to his baseball-influenced memories.
Crystal plays an aging dermatologist named Marty in “Standing Up, Falling Down” — but Marty has the acumen and timing of a veteran comic, as when he riffs on ride sharing services:
“I don’t need a taxi because I have the Lyft. You just hit the thing and a guy from another country comes and takes you right home. It’s like magic.”
The conceit of “Standing Up, Falling Down” has Ben Schwartz (“Parks and Recreation,” “House of Lies”) as Scott, a 34-year-old stand-up comedian who moves back home to eastern Long Island after bombing in L.A., and Crystal as Scott’s unlikely new friend Marty, a 70-something skin doctor he meets in the bathroom of a bar.
Marty doesn’t know from comedy, but he has sage advice for Scott: enough with the jokes and the bits. Marty likes comics who are real and tell funny stories based on their own experiences.
(And yes, this is the kind of movie in which the father figure wise man and the initially reluctant pupil get drunk and meet girls and smoke pot and get into hijinks, and wind up giving each other some valuable life lessons).
“Standing Up, Falling Down” opens with Schwartz’s Scott bombing, and deservedly so, in a fifth-rate comedy showcase in Los Angeles.
Out of options, Scott returns to his home, where his father (the invaluable Kevin Dunn) has no idea how to relate to his son (“Did you know, we got a new couch last year”), his mother (Debra Monk) is just thrilled to have him home, and his younger sister Megan (Grace Gummer) is eager to rub Scott’s failure in his face, because even though she’s 30 and still living at home and working at a pretzel kiosk at the mall and dating a security guard, she’s doing a lot better than Scott!
Upon further review, the seemingly ridiculous instant friendship between Scott and Marty makes therapist-couch sense. Scott has never been close with his standoffish father. Marty is estranged from his adult son, who has never forgiven Marty for certain things in their past.
Scott is obsessed with making things right with his former girlfriend Becky (Eloise Mumford), who has been married for four years, to a surfer-jock guy (John Behlmann).
The way things play out is more interesting and funny and relatable than one might expect. Eloise Mumford and John Behlmann deserve a ton of credit for making the most of relatively thinly drawn supporting roles.
Meanwhile, and most important, we have Scott and Marty, Marty and Scott, learning those life lessons from one another.
“Happiness fades, OK?” says Marty. “And sadness dulls over time … but regret, that s- - - is real man, that s- - - lingers.”
Billy Crystal is authentic and believable and real in such moments, to the point where we forgive the porkpie hat and the half-block-length Cadillac and the karaoke performance and the rest of the cheesy cheese.
Ben Schwartz is in his comfort zone playing a shallow jerk. We already knew he could pull that off. The revelation is Schwartz convincingly expanding his persona to make Scott a genuinely likable, decent human being.
Lessons learned all around.