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Tumbledown

Year: 2016
Production Co: Echo Films
Director: Sean Mewshaw
Writer: Sean Mewshaw/Desi van Til
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Jason Sudeikis, Griffin Dunne, Blythe Danner, Richard Masur, Joe Manganiello

What's most obvious about Tumbledown – especially if you saw the underseen Sleeping With Other People – is that it seems far more the kind of movie Jason Sudeikis wants to do after bill-paying stuff like Horrible Bosses, We're The Millers and the upcoming Angry Birds.

It's not that he seems not to enjoy those overtly more commercial funny movies where he's usually more broadly comic and bumbling, there's just a subtlety to his talkier, intellectual roles like Tumbledown that he seems the slightest bit more eager to inhabit.

If you've only seen him in more commercial fare (or co-star Rebecca Hall in similar stuff like Iron Man 3), this film is well worth a look. Hall is Hannah, the widow of a folk singer who was so successful people still make pilgrimages to his grave a year after his accidental death near their house in the wintry mountains of Maine.

She's been getting messages from some hipster New York pop culture academic, Andrew (Sudeikis), about a book he wants to write about her husband, but Hannah's been completely ignoring them. The first reason is because she's barely moved on from her loss, seeing a local dolt (Joe Manganiello) on the side, writing silly human-interest columns for the local paper and barely engaging with life beyond that. The other reason is because she's decided to write her own book about her husband's legacy.

But when her draft turns out to be terrible, she has to try to forget her fear Andrew is just another muckraker trying to figure out the lurid details about what might have been a suicide. She invites him to stay with her so she can give him access to the tidbits of her and her husband's shared life, his music and even his studio so they can write the book together.

In true rom-com fashion, Hannah's staunch resistance melts in the face of Andrew's determination and charm, but to the film's credit it's not a bland Hollywood rom-com, and Andrew's not in Hannah's house to get into her pants but to do the project they've agreed to.

There are a few rom-com conventions, like when Andrew accompanies Hannah to her family's traditional Easter dinner, but co-writers Desi van Til and Sean Mewshaw (who directs) know what kind of movie they want, and such conceits actually contribute to the story rather than just descend into trailer-worthy gags.

It's quite a feat for Sudeikis, whose wide eyes and smart mouth make him a funny guy (but that might just be our perception of him after the roles we know him for), but it's natural territory for Hall – who shines. Beautiful in a lived-in way rather than being a typical Hollywood babe, she has a quiet, sardonic intelligence, and what she achieves with a tiny change in her eyes or movement of her mouth could fill a textbook about acting.

You'll find yourself half-hoping they don't fall in love, kiss and ride off into the sunset at the end, just because until then Tumbledown has been a smart, emotional, adult drama with some laughs rather than the collection of gags in search of a plot most films of the genre are.

This review isn't going to spoil it either way, but when the end comes, it fits perfectly with the confines of the story and the creative approach rather than breaking out into a big flouncy flourish. The story doesn't need it in order to tug your heartstrings any more than the characters or actors do. The fact that support roles are performed by classy names like Griffin Dunne and Blythe Danner only cements how good the script it.

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