SYNOPSIS: Starring Steve Coogan and Hilary Duff, WHAT GOES UP takes a comedic look at life, love and all the chaos in between. Also starring Olivia Thirlby and Josh Peck. When a group of teenage social misfits befriends jaded journalist Campbell Babbitt (Coogan), who's on assignment in their small New Hampshire town, they each find themselves searching for meaning and truth in their crazy, mixed-up lives. But as Babbitt gets to know these eccentric kids better -- their hidden secrets begin to rise to the surface, changing each other's lives forever.
Gifted comedic actor Johnathan Glatzer makes his directorial debut with the quirky dramedy ‘What Goes Up’, but unlike its title, this turgid movie only seems to be headed on a downward course. Indeed, Glatzer’s inexperience as a director is all too apparent, as his film flounders around looking for a narrative course to follow but ends up going in awkward circles.
The lead character is one cynical newspaper journalist Campbell Babbitt (Steve Coogan) whose conscience takes a hit after he fabricates a much celebrated article about a woman whom he calls a real-life saint but in fact had taken her life prior to publication. Babbitt’s latest assignment is to cover the sentiments of a small town, the home of Christa McAuliffe, the teacher-turned-astronaut in the fatal 1986 Challenger mission. There, he meets a group of delinquent misfits, former students of his friend who committed suicide on the day he arrived.
Adapting his own stage play, co-screenwriter Robert Lawson attempts to find some meaning through the exploration of heroism- presumably Babbitt will learn that these teens are real-life ordinary heroes trying to cope with the circumstances of their everyday lives. Nonetheless, Lawson and Glatzer (also credited as screenwriter) defines these characters so poorly that one never really gets to empathise with them. Worse still, in their attempt to be quirky, they have also created characters too weird and distant to be convincing.
And so, we get a student who has apparently been in love and sleeping with the dead teacher, another randy boy who falls in love with a crippled girl after she persuades him to have sex with her, and a peeping Tom who masturbates while standing outside a window watching a mother breastfeed her newborn baby. It’s not that we aren’t sympathetic, but these quirks need to be grounded in well-formed character arcs so that the audience can understand their complexities- otherwise, as with this film, it just becomes too much of a turn-off.
The usually sharp Coogan has been unfortunately neutered by the subpar material, and often seems to be going about the movie in a daze. None of the other teenage stars make much of an impression, and the same goes for former Disney girl Hilary Duff, whose movie career after she outgrew her Lizzie McGuire character has all but disappeared. Even reliable character actor Molly Shannon can’t make her role as a sexually frustrated choir mistress work.
When such a movie forgets its most important element- characters- you know that it is only, like the shuttle it references, going to crash and burn. Slow, plodding and very much unfocused, there is little in this inert movie to recommend.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is pretty much a front and centre affair, leaving little of the audio for the back speakers. Visuals are unfortunately appear unfocused like the movie, and the transfer lacks the sharpness that should be expected of a DVD.
DVD RATING :
Review by Gabriel Chong