Film & TV

Rewind, Review, and Re-Rate: 2016’s ‘Tumbledown’: When Jason Sudeikis Solidified His Rom-Com Lead Status

BY Mark Jackson TIMEMay 8, 2022 PRINT

Johnny Depp’s in the news a lot lately. So’s Jason Sudeikis. Johnny’s trying rescue his wrecked reputation from ex-wife Amber Heard, and Jason’s trying to get custody of his kids from ex-partner, filmmaker Olivia Wilde. Jason’s had the reputation for years for dating women much better looking than himself, and apparently people have wondered about that, since he’s kind of an everyman. “Tumbledown” was the movie that demonstrated that the “Saturday Night Live” alum wasn’t just a sketch-comedy powerhouse, but also a legit romantic leading man.

Cozy Setting

A comely lass lives in a rustic, Maine Woods cabin with a great, bookish loft-study, two dogs, a recording-studio annex, and a vintage red Ford pickup truck. She occasionally interviews townsfolk for the local newspaper out of the mom-and-pop bookstore on Main Street. She’s writing a book.

Who is 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.

brunette woman in TUMBLEDOWN
Hannah (Rebecca Hall), in “Tumbledown.” (Universal Pictures)

And it so happened that Hannah’s folk-singer husband, Hunter, had a horrible hiking accident. He tumbled down a mountain named “Tumbledown.” He’s gone, but Hannah’s love lingers.

So “Tumbledown,” the movie, is a not-quite-a-humdinger about a dead folk singer, but, as mentioned, it’s mostly a country comedy featuring funnyman Sudeikis as a surprisingly effective romantic lead. As a date movie—it’s right nice.

Folkie

Hannah’s 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.

woman on chair with blanket in TUMBLEDOWN
Hannah (Rebecca Hall)  grieving, in “Tumbledown.” (Universal Pictures)

“Hannah” is a very fine name choice for folk songs about “sad-eyed ladies of the lowland” and “the north country fair” (Bob Dylan lyrics). 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 around, too.

Anyway, Hannah can’t get over Hunter “and the flame still burns” (that’s a “The Band” lyric), and she wants to honor his legacy with a biography but doesn’t feel up to the task.

woman on mountain in TUMBLEDOWN
Hannah (Rebecca Hall) doing more grieving, in “Tumbledown.” (Universal Pictures)

Rent-a-Writer

A major problem crops up: She finds out that someone else wants to write that biography, too. (Hunter’s a one-album wonder; his fandom is prodigious.) She might have easily foreseen such a development, though; her Arwen-and-Aragorn-type lingerings at her deceased husband’s tombstone reveal a constantly accumulating pile of fan flowers, poems, er, “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?

man in sport coat and tie in TUMBLEDOWN
Andrew McCabe (Jason Sudeikis), in “Tumbledown.” (Universal Pictures)

That guy happens to be one Andrew McCabe (Jason Sudeikis), a Manhattan-based, mildly lumberjack-ish professor, dressed very 2016-fashionable in his rolled slim-fits and requisite faux-19th-century man-booties, who lectures on rappers 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.

Andrew suggests that he and Hannah meet. At the bookstore. And it’s almost, but not quite, a meet cute. Hannah’s conflicted and very rude. She knows she can’t handle the writing gig herself, but she’s also terrified that her story might get outright stolen, as opposed to the better solution of working out some kind of collaboration. As her bookstore boss (Griffin Dunne) explains to Andrew (after Hannah shreds Andrew’s notebook containing his biography notes), “There are many stages of grief; Hannah’s currently going through vandalism.”

man and woman at table in TUMBLEDOWN
Hannah (Rebecca Hall) and Andrew (Jason Sudeikis), in “Tumbledown.” (Universal Pictures)

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 could go wrong. A dim-bulb (but very built) former high school classmate-turned-Wichita-lineman (Joe Manganiello of “Magic Mike”) 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.

man yellow jacket in TUMBLEDOWN
Curtis (Joe Manganiello), in “Tumbledown.” (Universal Pictures)

Then there’s Hannah’s “Home for the Holidays” family, with one toe over the line into overly cutesy nudging and meddling. And Andrew’s one-note jealous girlfriend (Dianna Agron of TV’s “Glee”). And some too-cutesy dogs.

man and woman in kitchen in TUMBLEDOWN
Linda (Blythe Danner) and Andrew (Jason Sudeikis), in “Tumbledown.” (Universal Pictures)

Had they found a truly magical folk singer who made you want to immediately hop on iTunes and search for the soundtrack, or better yet, hold your phone up with the Shazam app on and directly suck the music up into it (I feel this is the true meaning of the Hogwarts term “apparate”), this movie would have been truly lovely.

mand with beard and blond woman in TUMBLEDOWN
Andrew (Jason Sudeikis) and Finley (Dianna Agron), in “Tumbledown.” (Universal Pictures)

All Jason

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 is just funny. He can take some “meh” lines, something 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 in such a way that you’ll be laughing for a good minute afterward. If you’re wondering why he dates women much better looking than himself—this is the reason.

couples dancing in TUMBLEDOWN
Hannah (Rebecca Hall) and Andrew (Jason Sudeikis), in “Tumbledown.” (Universal Pictures)

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 Jason Sudeikis being an actual romantic leading man right there. That definitely works.

Obviously, “Tumbledown” turns into a romance eventually, and while the chemistry’s not immediately electrifying, you’ll find yourself little by little seriously rooting for it. The key component is patience; it takes a while to build. Slowly you start to realize that the laughs are more potent than you’d expected, and the chemistry too.

man and woman in field in TUMBLEDOWN
Hannah (Rebecca Hall) and Andrew (Jason Sudeikis), in “Tumbledown.” (Universal Pictures)

The not-quite-a-humdinger about a dead folk singer also 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?

Movie poster for "Tumbledown."
Movie poster for “Tumbledown.”

Tumbledown’
Director: Sean Mewshaw
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Jason Sudeikis, Dianna Agron, Blythe Danner, Griffin Dunne, Joe Manganiello, Richard Masur
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Release Date: Feb. 5, 2016
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 for execution, 4 for an actor successfully stretching into a new genre

Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.
You May Also Like