Hunter Miles, like his real-life counterparts Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin, met an early demise at the prime of his life, and while he only produced one album, it caused such an impact among music lovers that they make pilgrimages to his grave and leave tokens of remembrance. Hannah (Rebecca Hall), his widow, has been somehow left in suspended animation: frozen in time and grief, but surviving regardless. She’s seeing a lumberjack (Joe Manganiello) as a form of sexual escapism while trying to write a book about Miles. What she doesn’t yet know until the call comes, is that someone else is interested in writing about Miles, and he may have a more objective point of view than hers.
The person in question is Andrew (Jason Sudeikis). A pop-culture professor, he’s aware of Miles’ influence and thinks there is a good book here. Conversations with Hannah both on the phone and in person turn immediately confrontational: they have different points of view, and it looks like the book will be buried even before the first sentence.
She decides to give it another swing, but their relationship alternates between professional and antagonistic. It’s understandable and Sean Mewhaw draws a solid study of a woman’s controlled pain confronted by the impending catharsis of a biography, but I suspect that Hannah’s cagey behavior hides the fact that she actually likes to be around Andrew, more than she would care to admit. The problem — and it’s one that Andrew himself will ask her at a point during the movie — is that he can’t possibly compete with perfection. And Hunter Miles was precisely that.
Tumbledown alternates with gentle comedy and drama well, reaching a solid, satisfying balance that will please women looking for a rom-com that’s not too sappy. Rebecca Hall continues to essay characters with repressed inner conflicts as she did in A Promise. Jason Sudeikis is quite good here, removed from the sillier comedies he’s done, and he fills his leading man shoes believably, with sensitivity. Perhaps the removal of some unnecessary characters thrown in for some quasi-romantic tension (Diana Agron, Joe Manganiello) would have sparked a two-character plot about discovery. Even as such it’s a good little variation on the opposites attract. Watch for Blythe Danner and Griffin Dunne in small, supporting roles that balance Rebecca Hall perfectly.
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