How cozy is this? A comely lass living in a rustic, Maine woods cabin; great, bookish loft-study; two dogs; recording-studio annex; vintage red Ford pickup truck—and she occasionally interviews townsfolk for the local newspaper out of the mom-and-pop bookstore on Main Street, while writing a book.
Who’s this poufy-lipped brunette with the chin dimple and Labrador retriever eyes? British actress Rebecca Hall, with an impeccable American accent. Her character’s named Hannah.
And it so happened that Hannah’s folk-singer husband, Hunter, had a horrible hiking hazard. Tumbled down a mountain named “Tumbledown.” He’s gone—but Hannah’s love isn’t.
So “Tumbledown,” the movie, is not-quite-a-humdinger about a dead folk singer. It’s also a country comedy featuring funnyman Jason Sudeikis as a surprisingly effective romantic leading man, and a date movie. And as such—it’s right nice.
Husband Hunter Miles was a neo-folkie of the Horse Feathers and Bon Iver ilk (tracks sung by Seattle songwriter Damien Jurado, employing a similar breathy falsetto), the ghost of whom warbles over the movie.
And “Hannah” is a most excellent name choice for folk singing about sad-eyed ladies of the north country. Bob Dylan wrote “Visions of Johanna.” Ray LaMontagne wrote, “Hannah won’t you come on to me.” The name Hannah immediately makes you think of bandanas, blond braids, and snow. Wait, no, that’s Hannah Teter, snowboarder—never mind—but the Hannah in “Tumbledown” has plenty of snow too.
Anyway, Hannah can’t get over Hunter and the flame still burns, and she wants to honor his legacy with a biography but doesn’t feel up to the task.
Horror of horrors, she learns someone else wants to write that biography too—Hunter’s a one-album wonder, and his fandom is prodigious. She might have easily foreseen such a development, though; her Arwen-like, hubby-tombstone lingerings reveal a constantly accumulating pile of fan flowers, poems, “hemp,” beads, and candles. She’s clearly not the only one grieving his loss, so why wouldn’t someone else be thinking about a book deal?
Who might that be? Andrew McCabe (Jason Sudeikis), a Manhattan-based, mildly lumbersexual professor in rolled slim-fits and requisite faux-19th-century man-booties, who lectures on Biggie Smalls and Tupac, and can hold forth with authority (to his credit not pompously) on the topic of suicide in singer-songwriters of the 21st century. He suggests they meet. At the bookstore. And it’s almost a meet-cute, but not quite. Hannah’s conflicted (and very rude)—knows she can’t handle the writing gig herself—but she’s also terrified her story might get outright stolen, as opposed to some kind of collaboration. As her bookstore boss (Griffin Dunne) explains to Andrew (after she shreds the notebook containing Andrew’s biography notes), “There are many stages of grief, Hannah’s currently going through vandalism.”
Long story short: Hannah hires Andrew to move in with her, the better to facilitate the biography. Andrew does say, after all, “I want to make your husband immortal.”
What Could Go Wrong?
Well, a few things. The dim-bulb (but built) former high school classmate-turned-Wichita-lineman (Joe Manganiello of “Magic Mike”), who shows up regularly at Hannah’s door, sporting a most bizarre Maine accent, along with a variety of rescued animals as an excuse for, you know, stuff. It’s lonely up in the Maine woods.
Then there’s Hannah’s “Home for the Holidays” family, with one toe over the line of over-cutesy nudging and meddling. And Andrew’s one-note jealous girlfriend (Dianna Agron of “Glee”). And the too-cutesy dogs.
Had they found a truly magical folk singer who made you want to immediately tap iTunes for the soundtrack, or better yet, hold your phone up with the “SoundHound” app on and suck up the music—this movie would have been truly lovely.
The soulful-eyed Hall looks just like one imagines a folk singer’s widow named Hannah, in danger of interminably pining and sighing her life away, should look. And she does a more than satisfactory job of handling the comedy.
What really makes “Tumbledown” work, though, is Sudeikis. He’s hysterical in spite of a lukewarm script. The man just has a way with the funny. He can take some “meh” lines like, “The lake? As in go see some ice? As in frozen water? That’s my favorite thing in the whole world!!” and spin it with such enthusiasm that you’ll be laughing for a good minute afterward.
While not a classic rom-com lead like, say, Josh Duhamel, Jason Sudeikis is the flip side of the coin that has Duhamel on the other side: Duhamel has lots of looks and a little less comedy; Sudeikis has a lot of comedy and less looks. But here, he definitely makes you go: “Well, well—look at him being a leading man. That definitely works.”
“Tumbledown” turns into a romance, of course, and while the chemistry’s not immediately electrifying, you’ll find yourself eventually seriously rooting for it. The key component is patience—it takes a while to build. Slowly you start to realize the laughs are more potent than you’d expected; the chemistry too.
The not-quite-a-humdinger about a dead folk singer has offbeat, surprising physical comedy in small doses—watch for the ATV jumping the ridge with perfect comedic timing, to coincide with the kiss that seals the deal. Hunter who?
Director: Sean Mewshaw
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Jason Sudeikis, Dianna Agron, Blythe Danner, Griffin Dunne, Joe Manganiello, Richard Masur
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Release Date: Feb. 5
Rated 3.5 stars out of 5