Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 29 May 2009
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Morally challenged New York reporter Campbell Babbitt (Steve Coogan) becomes obsessed with his subject, tragic crime victim “Angela,” carrying on an affair with her up until the moment she commits suicide. Babbitt keeps her story going in the paper as a way to keep her alive. Readers and co-workers think she is.
His frustrated editor Donna Arbetter (Molly Price) sends him off to Concord, New Hampshire to cover the Christa McAuliffe/first teacher in space/local hero story. The year is 1986, and the Space Shuttle Challenger is days away from its historic, ill-fated launch.
Arriving in town, Babbitt decides to look up an old college roommate (an almost-priest, now a high school teacher) at the exact moment that the man jumps to his death from the top of his apartment building. The movie has run for all of 12 minutes at this point; two suicides have occurred and the comedy is just beginning.
Babbitt’s attention is overtaken by his deceased friend’s students, all reverentially devoted to the departed for disparate reasons. They are troubled, emotionally vulnerable and battling a communal grief that interests Babbitt much more than the McAuliffe story he’s there to cover.
Students include Lucy Diamond (Hilary Duff), who may or may not have had an affair with the deceased, known as “Mr. C.”; Jim Lement (Josh Peck) who masturbates nightly to his next-door neighbor breastfeeding her baby and has whisked Mr. C’s coffin away to an ice pond for the group to decorate and memorialize; and Tess Sullivan (Olivia Thirlby) who is pregnant, one suspects, not by any member of her peer group.
Others comprising the bizarre group include two twin-like girlfriends, Ann and Sue (Ingrid Nilson, Andrea Brooks) that continually caress each other’s arms, and a wheelchair dependent girl, Peggy (Sarah Lind) who solicits sex from one of her classmates, Fenster (Max Hoffman) as if they are partners working on a science project together.
Penelope Little (Molly Shannon) is the school’s choir mistress who lives at the same boarding house where Babbitt’s staying. Her ties to the dead Mr. C. are speculative, but she immediately sees a romantic replacement in Babbitt. Penelope’s bitter, suspicious nature is at odds with her cheery production of the school musical “Blast Off” celebrating the Challenger mission.
Babbitt and Lucy, all of 17 years old, find they have an attraction for one another, eventually (and accidentally) recreating a crude Romeo and Juliet balcony scene. Tess continually broods and accuses Babbitt of being a liar regarding his background. Jim stalks Babbitt periodically, keeping an eye on his possible competition for Lucy. Peggy and Fenster fall in love.
To top it all off, Babbitt’s editor informs him that he’s been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his stories on “Angela,” who he’s fashioned as a modern-day hero, neglecting to mention that she’s committed suicide months before. All of this takes place before the Challenger lifts off, and that impending catastrophe looms as large as any of Babbitt’s or the students’ eventual epiphanies.
The ensemble cast does a skillful job of communicating confusion, loss, disappointment and hope. Steve Coogan is a straight man here, reacting to the absurdity of events with a British stiff upper lip. Hilary Duff is effective as the devastated teen whose great love is gone forever. Olivia Thirlby channels angst as if it runs through her veins. Josh Peck is her male counterpart, great at looking bewildered. Molly Shannon is solemn and self-righteous as the small-minded Penelope Little.
Writer/director Jonathan Glatzer (Prix Fixe) along with first-time screenwriter Robert Lawson manages to pull together some poignant moments from the vast pool of quirk and contrivance they’ve assembled. The cinematography looks amateurish at times and some of the sound quality is substandard. The plot operates on a split personality of tragedy and often inappropriate comedy that can feel out of place and sometimes disrespectful to the dead, both actual and fictional.
What goes up during “What Goes Up” is the expectation that the promise of the first twenty minutes would be maintained throughout the film’s length. What comes down eventually is a vehicle that, like the Challenger, never got to achieve its mission.