Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Long Way Down: JJ's side of the story


I can't get Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down out of my head; the story of four suicidal people who meet on a London rooftop on New Years eve, the screen adaptation  stars Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots and Rosamund Pike and will be in theaters on Valentines Day 2014. 

Hornby's understanding of human nature; his fresh, frank approach to the subject had me both snorting with laughter and sniffling sympathetically as I got to know the quirky quartet. 
I think his magic is how he brings these four disparate characters together - telling their side of the story in turn - and embeds them in our hearts where they feel a lot like a dysfunctional family. Maybe even like our own dysfunctional families. Nothing in common, talking at cross purposes, keeping up the generational divide, the characters, wallowing in their own shitty worlds, are initially - and unknowingly - blind and selfish, short-sighted and deluded, disappointed and trapped and at the end of the day, simply trying to find a way through this world. 

Yes! A whole lot like you and me meaning they see each other much more clearly than they see themselves. To say that this crazy little group of misfits, this motley crew, this ragtag band of 'losers' helped each other survive is to reduce a rich, surprising, nothing-cloying-about-it work of art to a pat little cliche of overcoming obstacles. It could be that sort of rah rah thing except that Hornby keeps his writing razor sharp; the characters - like family- frequently cut each other to the quick exposing their weak spots, giving us close inspection of both the cutter and the cuttee. For me at least, it was pretty illuminating.



While Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ all spoke to me, it was JJ's story, and his voice, that really resonated with me. A musician with a failed band and busted relationship, JJ's struggle as an artist is deeply moving. Anyone who has ever taken the words 'you can do whatever you want to do' to heart, and who has then dreamed of pursuing their art, be they musician, writer, filmmaker, sculptor, etc etc will relate to his internal battle and deep disappointment that talent and desire don't always win the day.

In JJ's words -
The trouble with my generation is that we all think we're fucking geniuses. Making something isn't good enough for us, and neither is selling something, or teaching something or even just doing something; we have to be something. It's our inalienable right, as citizens of the twenty-first century. If Christina Aguilera or Britney or some American Idol jerk can be something, then why can't I? Where's mine, huh? Ok, so my band, we put on the best live shows you could ever see in a bar, and we made two albums, which a lot of critics and not many real people liked. But having talent is never enough to make us happy, is it? I mean, it should be, because a talent is a gift, and you should thank God for it, but I didn't. It just pissed me off because I wasn't being paid for it, and it didn't get me on the cover of Rolling Stone.

It is passages like that that have my heart aching for JJ. In the film he's played by Aaron Paul, the actor who skyrocketed into the public consciousness via the intensely popular Breaking Bad. We see him first through Martin's eyes, when JJ approaches Martin, Maureen and Jess on the roof on that fateful New Years Eve.
And at that precise moment of acceptance, we three became four. There was a polite cough, and when we turned round to look, we saw a tall, good-looking, long-haired man, maybe ten years younger than me, holding a crash helmet under one arm and one of those big insulated bags in the other.                                           
"Any of you guys order a pizza?" he said. 
The phrase "long-haired man" doesn't put Aaron Paul in my head at all; he's spent the last few years shaving his head, how can it? Church lady and single mother Maureen cements in the long-haired image saying - 
My own feeling about JJ, without knowing anything about him, was that he might be a gay person, because he had long hair and spoke American. A lot of Americans are gay, aren't they? I know they didn't invent gayness because they say that was the Greeks. But they helped bring it back into fashion. 
Long hair and gay? Isn't Maureen hilarious? Her isolation as a single mother to a special needs teenage son with only her church providing anything of a social life causes her to be out of step with society, her ignorance is tolerable because she's ultimately so tolerant. But back to Paul's portrayal of JJ. Clearly readers of A Long Way Down will have to discard that hair and embrace the actor's own shorter locks.  If the intensity the actor brought to his Breaking Bad Jesse character is a predictor, I predict Mr. Paul will be bringing me to my knees. And I'll be bringing tissue to the theater. 

I consider this part one of my take on Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down; I'll be back with a look at how each of the other characters, Martin, Maureen and Jess, see the world, and share a few of their best lines from the book. Really hope that BAFTA winning screenwriter Jack Thorne finds a way to work them into the script.

Here's another of my favorites from JJ -
What I didn't say, because it sounded too fucking lame, was that if it were possible to rewind, I'd rewind back to the last few weeks of the band, and the last few weeks of Lizzie, even though everything was fucked up. I was still playing music, I was still seeing her - there wasn't anything to complain about, right? Ok, everything was dying. But it wasn't dead.
Intrigued? Meet Martin (Pierce Brosnan) and Maureen (Toni Collette) and Jess (coming soon)

Update: 1/4/2014A Long Way Down is set to premiere in February at Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival, followed by a UK debut on March 7. I'm still chomping at the bit to know when the film will hit the states. A Long Way Down also stars Rosamund Pike. IMDB doesn't list the part she plays leaving readers to wonder whether she's Martin's ex-wife, Cindy  or his sometime shag partner former co-presenter, Penny, or some newly created character. You know how that goes!



3 comments:

  1. I love your take on this. I'm always in line to read whatever Nick Hornby writes, and this book didn't disappoint. I've forgotten a lot about it, but now your review and predictions bring it all back. Thanks.

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  2. Thanks Paulita; I'm really taken with JJ's character. Do you remember if you had a fave out of the four? They all have their appeal - even Jess. I think I'll do Martin next; he's the 'areshole' and 'tv presenter' who slept with a 15 year old basically ruining his entire life.

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  3. Oh so I've only got a few months to read the book! Oh dear. Will have to try sneak it in to my busy schedule. I only skimmed your post though so as to avoid spoilers (my paranoia).

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