The Climb is a comedy of surprises. I don't mean plot twists here, actually very little out of the ordinary happens. Friends fight and make-up, families celebrate holidays, and couples get together and fall apart. The surprises come from how genuine the whole film feels. It features a deeply unlikely character in it but still manages to make you care. It has plenty of side-lined women to the two male friends story of bonding and yet gives each one a moment to shine. And the whole thing is funny in a way that naturally bubbles up from the performances.
Director Michael Angelo Covino mines so much out of an episodic tale of two friends who constantly come back into each other's lives. He brings creative energy to the film that elevates this beyond the usual Sundance formula. There are random musical performances, a lip-sync routine, and a fragmented structure that suggest a real eye for the cinematic even if the film is built around two lead performances.
Covino plays Mike. In the opening chapter, Mike is athletic and lean compared to his long-life pal Kyle (co-writer Kyle Marvin). Kyle admits he is doughy but appreciates that Mike got him out for the Bike trip. Then Mike drops a bomb that he has been sleeping with Kyle's fiancée and is in love with her. The next chapter reveals that Mike ended up marrying her but she is now dead. The two reconnect again after years of not speaking.
Each chapter has a rhythm to it. Dynamics shift and characters move fluidly around a roving camera. Covino has the camera curiously roam around scenes allowing many good performances to shine. There is a formal control to the way The Climb is constructed that is often thrilling and certainly makes the comedy land more often than not. Editing plays an often role in hitting a punchline for example.
The Climb is a gem, an American comedy that never sacrifices thoughtful execution due to a small working budget. The performances by Covino and Marvin create characters that will be remembered by audiences. Covino's Mike is a real asshole but one that you can't help but understand why Kyle forgives. The richness of both the characters and the skill of the filmmaking reminds me of many films from the 70s. This is a damn good film and well worth seeking out.