Review: ‘Tumbledown’ at Aspen Filmfest
A protective widow and a probing writer spar and eventually side together in “Tumbledown,” the sweet-hearted dramedy from debut director Sean Mewshaw that played Saturday at Aspen Filmfest.
The film stars Rebecca Hall as the tough but tender Hannah Miles, who has been grieving “in the frickin’ woods” of Maine for two years. Her husband, Hunter, was a folk musician with a haunting voice — a la Elliott Smith or Jeff Buckley — whose death has been clouded in mystery and subjected to tabloid treatment. Then Andrew McDonnell, a Manhattan-based professor of American studies and pop culture, played by Jason Sudeikis, rolls into town in the hopes of writing a biography of Hunter.
She attempts to chase him off with what he dubs the “crazy-widow routine,” but he stays on the story. Hannah unsurprisingly relents and eventually agrees to bring Andrew into her home to help him write the biography.
Hannah’s and Andrew’s barbed exchanges early on are a comic high point in a film that opts to sidestep the familiar narrative of tortured genius, instead opting to make it a backdrop for a romantic comedy. We get little more than hints about Hunter and his music and segments of a few songs (performed by Damien Jurado). The devout following and significance of his music are suggested through the stream of fans making pilgrimages to his grave, where Hannah also takes multiple trips.
Sudeikis proves likable in his subtle smart-ass performance, even as he snoops and lies and steps on the toes of the small mountain town’s denizens and Hunter’s loved ones. Hannah’s family and the locals — including Blythe Danner as Hannah’s mom and Griffin Dunne as the local bookstore owner and newspaper editor — are less than welcoming to the big city outsider. Hannah’s burly sometime-boyfriend, played by Joe Manganiello, is particularly combative, to comic effect.
As the tension between Hannah and Andrew calms, though, it becomes all too clear where the story is heading.
“Tumbledown” is scheduled for a theatrical release in February.
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