'Tumbledown' a Somber Hike Through Grief That Lacks Wit

Directed by: Sean Mewshaw; Runtime: 105 minutes

The loss of a mid-thirties, not-quite celebrity musician takes center stage in Tumbledown, tracking the impact of his early death upon both those closest to him and to those who simply appreciated the work he put out. Director Sean Mewshaw, who co-wrote the story with wife and screenwriter Desi Van Til, aims to explore the sorrow and appreciation for an artist, husband, and beloved family member whose notable talent wasn't fully realized, trekking through a woodsy landscape as the musician's spouse attempts to move on by writing about his life. There's tenderness and soul within the premise, especially when interrupted by an outside scholar who also wants to write about the nuances of the musician's life, but that's only the first step in realizing an authentic portrait about that kind of personal catharsis and reverence. Too-snappy dialogue and an inability to reach deeper into who these people really are, eventually propped up by stock romantic dram-com circumstances, keep Tumbledown from being more than just a somber elegy as it falls into a conventional tempo.

Secluded in the frosty wilderness of Maine with her two dogs, Hannah (Rebecca Hall) lives a simple and melancholy life after the death of her husband, folk musician Hunter Miles, passing the time by writing interviews for a local newspaper. She has also been working on a book about her husband's life, the nuances and ephemera of what distinguished him; yet, despite her capabilities as a writer, she has found it difficult to properly articulate who he is and what he meant to her and those around him. Hannah discovers that there's someone else interested in writing about the singer: a college professor, Andrew (Jason Sudeikis), an admirer of his work and a specialist in cultural studies. Reluctantly, after spending some time around the writer following an impromptu visit, Hannah decides that the two could be mutually beneficial for another, inviting Andrew to stay in Maine for research purposes. As Hannah struggles to move on, city-boy Andrew works his way into the rustic woodlands of her town, discovering truths about the singer's relationships, outlook, and death.

In the likes of The Prestige and The Awakening, Rebecca Hall brought subdued electricity to characters on the cusp of sanity, her piercing gazes and rigid poise conveying shifts from angst to psychosis with a delicate touch. She brings the same qualities to Hannah, yet they're filtered through the jaded and snappish attitude of a widow lost in her own creative pursuits. Jason Sudeikis works his charms as a sarcastic scholar, elevating the same type of presence he brought to the table in We're the Millers and Horrible Bosses with scholarly, perceptive mannerisms. Despite their robust performances, however, Tumbledown keeps those watching at a distance from the inner details of Hannah and Andrew, unaided by how the script over-focuses on highbrow, quick-witted dialogue, trying too hard to create acerbic banter between idiosyncratic intellectuals that are expected to thaw out with time. Hall and Sudeikis are better as conflicting personalities than those developing an affinity for one another, lacking chemistry once the film's predictable warmth starts to knit them closer together.

Neither of the pair in Tumbledown are particularly endearing or forthcoming on their own, either, with Hannah's harshness barely earning compassion for her hardships and Andrew's arrogance overshadowing his appreciation for Hunter Miles' soulful music early on. Throughout the frosty landscape, the story brings together the melancholy state of Hannah's grief with Andrew's mingling with the citizens and country lifestyle of their rural city, sort of like a fish-outta-water situation. With guitar strums and a bluesy twang in his voice, Hunter's music brings together the overall folksy temperament with their growing relationship, coming together into a steadily wistful recollection of the singer that's more interested in sleuthing out facts than truly understanding these potentially compelling entities involved. Paths toward humor either reach a dead end or turn into bittersweet anecdotes that rarely bring the right amount of levity to the film, aside from the comical back-and-forth between city boy Andrew and the rugged electrical worker and hunter, Curtis (Joe Manganiello), who's fueled by macho interest in Hannah.

Tumbledown gets weighed down by its downhearted subject instead of genuinely exploring the depths of the emotions going on, becoming more focused on the details of the musician's death and, somewhat intentionally, less about grasping him on a more profound level. The enigmas buried within Hunter Mills -- and the disputed circumstances of his death -- force a semi-realistic but intangible attitude upon the film once it settles into more traditional dram-com happenings, creating a disconnected portrait surrounding family gatherings, impromptu excursions into the Maine wilderness, and a few unnecessary developments among the town. Though it travels down these familiar emotional trails, Tumbledown does temporarily wander into interesting thematic grounds near the end involving musical interpretation and getting too wrapped up in existential thought, about perceiving death and one's inner demons. Unfortunately, underneath the blanket of Hannah and Andrew's construed relationship created by Sean Mewshaw and Desi Van Til, it's a moving idea that hasn't quite been earned at that crossroads.

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