THE STORY - Kyle and Mike are best friends who share a close bond - until Mike sleeps with Kyle's fiancée. The Climb is about a tumultuous but enduring relationship between two men across many years of laughter, heartbreak and rage. It is also the story of real-life best friends who turn their profound connection into a rich, humane and frequently uproarious film about the boundaries (or lack thereof) in all close friendships.
THE CAST - Michael Angelo Covino, Kyle Marvin & Gayle Rankin
THE TEAM - Michael Angelo Covino (Director/Writer) & Kyle Marvin (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME - 94 Minutes
THE GOOD - A bitingly funny screenplay serves as a foundation for ambitious one-take scenes that put us right alongside these characters.
THE BAD - The characters are kind of awful to spend time with.
THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None
THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10
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By Dan Bayer
Everyone knows those friends. The pair that have been friends forever and somehow continue to be devoted to each other even when one does something unforgivable. Mike (Michael Angelo Covino) and Kyle (Kyle Marvin) are those friends. In the first scene of “The Climb,” the two are biking in France when Mike reveals to Kyle that he slept with Kyle’s fiancée. Multiple times. In one long, unbroken take, the two men passive-aggressively fight until Mike gets in a fit of road rage with an irate car driver, who pulls over and beats Mike up. In the hospital, Mike confesses to Kyle’s fiancée that he loves her and Kyle sees them kiss. The two men don’t meet again until her funeral a short time later and the film follows their relationship over several years, each scene playing out in a single unbroken take.
The structure of “The Climb,” at least visually, feels incredibly ambitious for a feature directorial debut, even as the screenplay keeps things small, content to just be about the toxic, co-dependent relationship between these two men. It is executed with no small amount of panache by cinematographer Zach Kuperstein, especially in one bravura moment where we track Mike’s entrance to a holiday party from outside the house, seamlessly switching up the point of view as the camera moves around. The single-take nature of the film puts the audience right in the moment with these characters, allowing us to get extremely up close and personal with them. This works especially well with Covino and Marvin’s style of cringe comedy, which often elicits more uncomfortable titters than enthusiastic guffaws. The screenplay is solidly funny throughout, providing much-needed glimpses into the good parts of the relationship between these two men. Thank God for that, because otherwise, the film would be very difficult to get through.
The thing is, Mike and Kyle are pretty unbearable to spend time with. Kyle is passive, rarely, if ever, committing to anything without someone else pushing him while Mike is a selfish prick who seemingly can’t do anything without making it all about him. It is especially difficult to watch Kyle just accept when Mike walks all over him, only truly fighting back when he does something as horrible as sleeping with his fiancée. Mike’s downward spiral through most of the film is also difficult to watch as he just keeps repeating the same behavior over and over, somehow making it through by the skin of his teeth. The film offers a couple of hints at why the two have been so close for so long, but Mike’s behavior in the present is so awful that it becomes more and more difficult to watch Kyle keep coming back to him, even after he’s seemingly written him off for good. The humor does a lot to lighten the mood and keep things watchable, providing a bit of a tonic for all the toxic masculinity on display.
Covino and Marvin’s real-life buddy chemistry also goes a long way towards selling the relationship. The rhythms of the dialogue feel very unique to them and the understated quality of their performances add a lot to the tone of the film. The acerbic quality of the humor, instead of souring the whole thing, actually proves to be the zing the film needs to play enjoyably. Whenever the characters are about to reach the point of no return, an off-kilter line reading, a perfectly timed reaction, or a comedic pause will break the tension with a laugh. Just like a friend who knows you too well, “The Climb” knows just how much the audience can take before recoiling and uses that to its advantage. The fact that Covino and Marvin were able to achieve this together on their debut narrative feature bodes well for whatever they make next.