Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Toni Collette is a real mother in A Long Way Down; the upcoming movie based on Nick Hornby's book

In A Long Way Down, the Nick Hornby novel with a screen adaptation currently in post production, Hornby has given us four distinct, fabulously flawed and tragi-comedic characters who all meet on a rooftop in London, intent on 'topping' themselves. Is there an American equivalent of the British euphemism, slang even, for committing suicide. What do we say? I want to kill myself? 

Hornby's writing can be so biting and raw with insight that I expect screenwriter Jack Thorne to rob whole chunks of dialogue from Hornby's pages. The quartet made such an impression on me that I've been devoting entire posts to each character. 

We took a look at Martin, the immoral tv presenter played by Pierce Brosnan and JJ, the American musician devastated by what he sees as his failure at music and love, played by Aaron Paul. Then there's Jess, the bored, ignored bratty daughter of wealthy parents who has zero impulse control and no social skills is played by Imogen Poots. (saving her for another time)
JJ(Aaron Paul), Jess (Imogen Poots), Maureen (Toni Collette) and Martin (Pierce Brosnan)


For now the focus is on Maureen; she's the one that the other three feel so sorry for they rarely even give her a hard time. "Bloody pathetic" as Hornby might say.
Poor Maureen. She's played by Toni Collette in the film and I've no doubt she'll be brilliant; in over twenty years of film and television work I can't name a single poor Toni Collette performance, can you? 

Like the rest of them, Maureen is tremendously unhappy and ready to call it a day as far as 'life' goes. And why not? She's a fiftyish single mother with a grown son who has spent his entire life in a vegetative state. Her life has been reduced to little more than attending church and caring for him. 
"They tell me to keep talking to him, but you can see that nothing goes in."
While she loves her son, and takes care of his needs as best she can, she's neglected her own. It's not surprising that she hasn't been to a New Year's Eve party since 1984, or that she feels intense guilt when she lies to Matty, telling him she's off to a party when she's off to 'off herself' - more suicide slang. When the caretakers drive off with him, presumably for a one night stay, Maureen says -
"I couldn't cry when he went, because then the young fellas would guess something was wrong; as far as they knew, I was coming to fetch him at eleven the next morning. I just kissed him on the top of his head and told him to be good at the home, and I held it all in until I'd seen them leave. Then I wept and wept, for about an hour. He'd ruined my life, but he was still my son, and I was never going to see him again, and I couldn't even say goodbye properly. I watched the television for awhile, and I did have one or two glasses of sherry, because I knew it would be cold out."
Pathetic, yes? But not maudlin. Hornby doesn't touch the stuff. While he mostly sticks to sharp and funny, Maureen's character does touch a chord in the mother in me. She has had so little, her expectations so few, we feel with her as she navigates her way around her new friends.
"I didn't mind talking because I knew I didn't need to say very much. None of these people would have wanted my life. I doubted whether they'd understand how I'd put up with it for as long as I had. It's always the toilet bit that upsets people. Whenever I've had to moan before--when I need another prescription for antidepressants, for example--I always mention the toilet bit., the cleaning up that needs doing most days. It's funny, because it's the bit I've got used to. I can't get used to the idea that my life is finished, pointless, too hard, completely without hope or color; (except Hornby would have spelled it colour in his manuscript:) but the mopping up doesn't really worry me anymore. That's always what gets the doctor reaching for his pen, though."

Okay, Maureen does know how to get some of her needs met! It is after all, Maureen's desire to take a trip that gets the group moving. In the novel, they take a small vacay to the Canary Islands where frankly, not a lot happens. Judging from the shot of the group dunking Maureen in the sea, the screenwriter Jack Thorne took something of a trip himself. The dunking scene didn't come out of the novel.

I feel better now; in case you haven't read the book I wanted to tell you enough to get you reading it before the film comes out in March 2014 because it's fantastic. Of course it is; it's Nick Hornby! It made me laugh and it made me blubber a bit but it also made me think; about life, and living well, and the power of love, how much we owe each other, and being just a little gentle with myself and those who mean the most to me. 
Directed by Pascal Chaumel, A Long Way Down starring Toni Collette, Pierce Brosnan, Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots and Rosamund Pike is due out next year.



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