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Male Friendship Takes Center Stage in the Heartwarming 'The Climb'

Kyle and Mike go on a bike ride
[L-R] Kyle Marvin as Kyle, Michael Angelo Covino as Mike.
Photo by Zach Kuperstein. Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

There's no shortage of movies about male friendship. Usually such stories double as action flicks, capers, or buddy comedies, with less focus on the relationship and more on the wacky adventures the pair survives together. Michael Angelo Covino fills a much-needed gap and dares to make The Climb, a movie about male friendship that feels more like a romance (there's even a wedding scene that plays out almost like the one in The Graduate, with very different results). Despite all obstacles, two men choose to stay friends through thick and thin. And while there's humor to be found, the results are heartwarming and sweet, minus the sap.

Long-time friends Kyle (Kyle Marvin) and Mike (Covino himself) go for a challenging up-hill bike ride in France to celebrate Kyle's impending marriage to Ava (Judith Godréche; The Man in the Iron Mask). But the mood turns sour when Mike confesses he has slept with Ava. Well-crafted dialogue and the authentic rapport shared by the pair take center stage. All the while, the camera follows the action in a fabulous one-take tracking shot going backwards up the hill, capturing the beauty of the scene and the conflict between friends. The physical acting here can't be praised enough; Kyle wants to strangle his friend but also struggles to breathe. Mike appears chagrined yet unashamed at what he's done. This opening scene relays much about these two men and the bond they share, with little exposition. We know Kyle is an all-around nice guy -- loyal and true to a fault -- prone to being a pushover. Mike is an asshole but straightforward and unafraid to disappoint people.

Marissa, Kyle, and Mike on the ski lift
[L-R] Gayle Rankin as Marissa, Kyle Marvin as Kyle, Michael Angelo Covino as Mike
Photo by Zach Kuperstein. Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

The feature-length film, The Climb, directed by Covino, and co-written by Covino and Marvin, began as an 8-minute short that debuted at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. This opening scene sets the pace for what is to come. The movie curates moments when the pair intermingles, skipping through time, often marked by fluid, coordinated transitions, that keep the action moving forward. Sometimes months or years have passed in between. We don't know what's happened in the meantime, but this strategy keeps the bond between the two at the center. Each segment plays out like an act in a play, with a beginning, middle, and end. Like the unbroken bike ride at the beginning, long takes are the norm, with creative touches that keep the film feeling delightful and surprising throughout. One segment begins with Kyle doing a comical dance routine around his basement apartment. Minutes go by before we realize that he's performing for his now girlfriend, Marissa (Gayle Rankin; Blow the Man Down), who seems unimpressed by his antics.

While Covino obviously took great care to choreograph many scenes, like the funeral fight scene, the family Thanksgiving meal, and the pair's walk through ice, they feel natural and unplanned, almost like improv scenes playing out to the utmost. Marvin and Covino, friends in real life, have a natural chemistry that comes across on screen. Likewise, the supporting cast, including such stalwarts as George Wendt ("Cheers"), Talia Balsam ("Mad Men"), and the aforementioned Rankin, play understated versions of themselves, allowing the two leads to shine. The Climb successfully walks the fine between feeling natural and over-processed. 

Kyle and Marissa prepare to wed
[L-R] Kyle Marvin as Kyle, Gayle Rankin as Marissa.
Photo by Zach Kuperstein. Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

As we watch the friends weather the seasons, quite literally, and each other, we see each of them endure ups and downs. At the beginning, Kyle is overweight and must overcome the challenge of learning his best friend and fiancé are sleeping together, with Mike getting the girl. Later, Kyle has lost weight and achieved some career success, while Mike is down and out, with no friends to be found. And though their bond is toxic, at times, we understand the need these two have for one another. And even when one person or the other makes a mistake, in the end, things have a way of working out just as they were intended. Friendships survive and thrive because two people find strength in each and forgive the flaws. Marvin and Covino capture this perfectly in The Climb, with the wry wit of Woody Allen, the dialogue of Richard Linklater, and the choreography and transitions of Edgar Wright.

Release Info: Coming November 13, 2020 to theaters.

Final Score: 4 out of 5.

The Climb poster