Billy Crystal and Ben Schwartz co-star in “Standing Up, Falling Down,” a rare gem of a film with lots of heart by Matt Ratner, who is making his directing debut. The film was a stand-out on the first full day of screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it made its world premiere Thursday evening at the SVA Theater. Both stars and directors walked the red carpet and participated in a lively Q&A after the screening, along with co-stars Grace Gummer, Eloise Mumford, John Behlmann (currently on Broadway in “Tootsie”), Debra Munk and Jill Hennessy.
“Standing Up, Falling Down,” is a comic drama about the unlikely friendship between 34-year-old Scott (Schwartz) and jaded, alcoholic dermatologist Marty (Crystal). Scott has just returned to his home in Eastern Long Island after an unsuccessful stint in LA pursuing a career as a stand-up comic. Scott first encounters Marty when the older man is failing over drunk in a local suburban bar. Scott then unknowingly meets Marty again in his dermatology clinic where the younger man goes for treatment for a skin rash.
The two discover they have a lot in common; they each have failures, issues and heart ache and come to lean on each other for support and enlightenment in an attempt to get their lives together. Crystal, whose character is a sad sack of a man, a widower, and estranged from his two children, has never been better, especially in scenes that draw on his full range as a dramatic actor. His comedy chops are sharp as ever. And Schwartz as a comedic and dramatic actor will be a revelation to audiences who know him mainly from his work in the comic series “Parks and Recreation.” Also an improv actor known for his work with the Upright Citizens Brigade, Schwartz is fast on his feet, terrifically funny during the Q&A with Crystal, where the duo demonstrated what a natural rapport they have, which came across vividly on screen.
On the red carpet, I asked Schwartz, who is charming and has an incredible, preternatural head of hair, what drew him to making the film?
“Well the biggest thing is Billy Crystal because to me he is an icon of all icons. And I was told at the beginning when I got the script that he had chosen me, like he was one of the reasons it went out to me. So, immediately I was flabbergasted that he knew who I was. And to get into the role, and it’s just a matter of us reading it all together,” he said. “We looked at that script, we worked on that script, and we made it something we were really excited about.”
I asked Schwartz how he connected to his character of a failing stand-up comic?
“The character is so in my head at the very beginning of my career,” Schwartz said. “I was in improv comedy, and there’s always that fear of you don’t know what’s going to happen, you hope you make it, you try so hard, nobody wants to see you, nobody’s coming to my shows. And this character at the very beginning (is in this same situation). And it’s something I’ve connected to very strongly because it’s like ‘Oh this person really wanted to do this, and he failed, now what happens? How does he find his confidence again?’ So as someone as a comic I could understand that person, I can feel who that person was.”
As for what it was like working with Crystal, Schwartz told me:
“He’s incredible, I’ve seen every movie he’s ever done. And then when you see him for the first time in real life you’re like ‘Woah!’ And then you calm down and then you’re like ‘Oh I get to do a movie with him now’. It’s just, it’s wonderful, it includes everything you want it to be and it’s as brilliant as you want it to be, and he’s very talented, and he was down to improvise, and he was everything I’ve hoped that he would be.”
Crystal and Schwartz became close friends, even going to basketball games together, where during the Q&A someone asked if it was really them he’d seen on TV sitting court-side together at an NBA game.
“Yeah, we [effing] were,” said Schwartz. “For me, let me say this. To me Billy Crystal who, to me is not only an icon, not only a legend, but his films, I was raised on. ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ And then, I grew up with ‘City Slickers,’ and you start saying hello. You grow up with someone who shaped your life as a comedian and as a human being. And then you meet him, and he has an incredible family, and he has an incredible wife, and I got to learn so much as a human being and as a comedian. But we’re also enormous NBA basketball fans, truly.”
Said Crystal, “And I’ve had these seats, and he keeps bugging me. Can I go? Can I go? And whenever someone doesn’t go, I get these texts. I have a vibe that no one’s going. Can I go? And he said we go a lot together. And I feel like I’m his uncle, and I take him to the games, and he hides spare change and candy in my pocket.”
Added Crystal, “We’ve become great friends. And I love the energy of the whole movie. We were basically changing in our cars or some terrible place,” he laughed. “These young people committed to supporting and making this movie the way we all felt it should be, and that was kind of thrilling for me to come to the set every day with challenging material. I don’t drink, so I had to sort of learn-how, and that was fun. And we go to the games and we smashed. We just get smashed at the game, and we say it’s research, it’s just research. Yeah, we’ve gone several times and we’re doing another one (Q&A’s) of these tomorrow, and with regrets my Clippers are playing at the same time the screening is. So, I’m going to say goodnight now.”
Photo: c2019 Showbiz411 by Paula Schwartz