Somerville House // 2000 // 92 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // November 12th, 2008
"It's tragic but at the same time it's romantic."
Mourning the recent death of his mother, struggling actor Michael (Darcy Belsher, Hollow Man 2) dulls the pain with regular doses of crack and heroin. That self-destructive behavior is shared by his friend Kris (Martin Cummins, Poltergeist: The Legacy), a talented painter on his way to throwing it all away. Helping Michael in his time of grief are a collection of colorful characters that include his housemate Tom (Richard Burton), café owner Bruce (Nicholas Campbell, Cinderella Man), Kris's girlfriend Ryan (Françoise Robertson), an eccentric homeless guy (René Auberjonois, Boston Legal) and a hooker named Sherry (Helen Shaver, Desert Hearts). Gradually, Michael comes to realize that he must relocate and start fresh if he's to get his life in order. However, the comfort of the drugs and the familiarity of his current lifestyle in Vancouver might mean it's too late for him to save himself.
Vancouver, British Columbia in the 1990s was becoming the hotbed for U.S. television productions taking advantage of the favorable exchange rate and tax incentives offered by filming in Canada. The industry blossomed as a service provider to "runaway" productions but the local filmmaking community continued to struggle for a piece of the action. After cutting his teeth as a director on some episodes of Poltergeist: The Legacy, Martin Cummins (with co-writer Richard C. Burton) decided to realize his autobiographical story of drug addiction and recovery as a wholly homegrown feature film. Seen as a kind of time capsule, We All Fall Down features some of the best up-and-coming acting talents working in Vancouver at the turn of the century. Notably cameo appearances include Barry Pepper (Flags of Our Fathers) as a cheerful café worker and Ryan Reynolds (Definitely, Maybe) as a drug dealer.
Cummins does a serviceable job helming his first feature-length movie. The use of real locations gives the movie a suitably gritty urban atmosphere for Michael's and Kris's downward spiral. All of the locations, from the street corners to the bars and apartments, feel authentic as the haunts of these characters. However, the script is bogged down by too many precious moments that, though they may be true to what Cummins himself experienced, create a predictable pattern that slows down the story. Cummins gives almost every character a monologue scene where she or he recites an anecdote, bares his or her soul or shares a subtly profound truth about life. And each time, the other characters in the scene sit patiently and attentively listening to the speech. If this had occurred once or twice -- and the speech was really good -- it might have been a moving moment but it happens so often that the scenes feel phony. The screenplay also relies too much on telling and not enough on showing. At one point, when we hear about a character in a car accident, I couldn't remember if we had even seen the character before never mind trying to picture the accident scene described in a breathless utterance.
Not a lot happens over the course of the movie. Michael's in mourning and he must face each day one at a time until he can pull his life together again. That's what happens in real life, certainly, but it doesn't make for very compelling cinema. Near the halfway point, Michael considers moving to Toronto to start over and based on what we've seen in the first 45 minutes, there's no reason why he shouldn't go. Nevertheless, it takes him the remainder of the movie to inform everyone that he's thinking about doing it. With a 92-minute runtime, the movie feels like it has about 20 minutes of padding. The worst aspect of the screenplay is the forced climax that undermines the honest way the story was unfolding. Even a hopeful movie can be grim and realistic, but if the filmmakers wait until the last five minutes to play that card, and it drastically changes the established tone of the movie, it's inconsiderate to the audience's emotional investment in the characters and their situation.
Darcy Belsher's performance is central to the movie and his performance as Michael is respectable. He's sympathetic enough and I liked the character as a good guy who keeps trying even though he's going through a rough time. Belsher's body language nicely conveys a guy who is making it through each day even though he can't quite stand upright on his own. However, for all the times Michael says he's in pain, I don't really believe he's suffering. The movie needs Michael to go to a darker place for his recovery to be substantial. Most of the time it looks like he just needs a hug.
The picture is presented in a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. The framing works just fine and I suspect this was the intended aspect ratio the cinematographer planned for expecting that the movie would primarily be viewed on television screens. The image is clean but it's not as sharp or vibrant as you'd expect for a DVD. Lighting looks very natural but the foregrounds are often photographed in shadow or shade. The result, as it appears on this transfer, is a slightly dim and flat picture. The stereo audio isn't taxed by the requirements of the movie but it still lacks energy and sounds flat.
The 30-minute featurette "Falling In: The Making of We All Fall Down" offers a casual behind-the-scenes look courtesy of filmmaker Paul Wong who loaned his house as a location for the production. Wong has fun with the footage he captures and there are some candid comments about the movie offered by the cast members. Helen Shaver remarks that an early draft of the script was like "babies writing a screenplay." Most of the cast and crew seem to relish their involvement with an independent homegrown movie. It's also interesting to see how big and professional this independent production appears to be.
We All Fall Down is a respectable independent effort but a tighter
script would have made the story more memorable. The movie is adequately
presented on DVD with below average marks for video and audio. The disc and
movie are guilty. The filmmakers are expected to serve their time in the
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Somerville House
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Falling In: The Making-of
* Two Theatrical Trailers