Producers: Noah Long, Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin   Director: Michael Angelo Covino   Screenplay: Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin   Cast: Kyle Marvin, Michael Angelo Covino, Gayle Rankin, Talia Balsam, George Wendt, Judith Godrèche, Daniela Covino, Eden Malyn and Jason Baxter    Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Grade: C+

“The Climb” started out as a short film, and this expansion resembles a series of them in the form of seven chapters that leave large chunks of the central relationship—a bromance that  ultimately trumps either of the men’s romances with women—to the viewer’s imagination.  It’s an intriguing solution to the challenge of turning a brief vignette into a longer form, but would have worked better had Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin managed to invest the connection between their characters, Mike (Covino) and Kyle (Marvin) with genuine emotional depth.  But instead they’ve settled for a wry, deadpan tone that screams of an independent-movie sensibility that’s engaging enough in the moment, but dissipates as quickly as the final credits.

The film begins with the two men doing a challenging uphill bike ride together.  In the course of it Mike reveals that he’s slept with Kyle’s fiancée Ava (Judith Godrèche).  Naturally this news does not go over well with Kyle, and the result is a scuffle that lands them both being treated at a clinic.  Ava shows up there and she and Mike infuriate Kyle by having another moment together, but the marriage goes ahead anyway.

The next segment jumps ahead in time to Ava’s untimely death.  Mike is distraught, when he gets into a tiff with the cemetery staff during the funeral, Kyle shows up to calm him down. 

But the restored amity is still tenuous, and Mike remains pretty much a mess and Kyle moves on by reconnecting with Marissa (Gayle Rankin), the high school sweetheart he’d broken up with.  It wouldn’t be to report the twists that the screenplay takes from there; suffice it to say that further chapters involve fraught family celebrations at the home of Kyle’s parents (George Wendt and Talia Balsam), a ski holiday, a snowy bachelor party that almost ends tragically,, an interrupted wedding and a breakup with humorous elements but also serious consequences. The movie ends with what is certainly its most affecting moment, involving another bike ride, this time with a third person, that leads to another, though far less bitter, disagreement between the two men, one that they can easily overcome as they continue the ride.  So we get a notion of circularity to the overall trajectory.

To add to the requisite quirkiness, several musical numbers are introduced to comment in an obscure fashion on the action at several points.  In the cemetery scene, for instance, the graveside workers break out in an impromptu song, and later a small band appears on an ice-covered lake. The unabashedly surreal touch could make you smile, but also wince.  

“The Climb” is meant to represent the journey of life, of course—or rather two particular lives that intersect in ways that prove the endurance of friendship even when confronted by speed bumps along the route.  The problem is that while we’re apparently intended to understand Mike and Kyle’s experience as a process of maturation, at the end they don’t really seem to have grown up, despite the fact that they’re faced with very real responsibilities. 

But one has to congratulate Covino and Marvin for the imagination with which they’ve expanded their short film, even if the result isn’t entirely satisfying, especially in terms of its treatment of the female characters; and the dialogue has its share of amusing, if not particularly deep, lines. The screenwriters give adequate, if hardly outstanding, performances in the leads they’ve written for themselves and the rest of the cast give it their best shot, though none are remarkable.         

What is especially commendable is the craft work. Sara Shaw’s editing lets the action breathe without going slack, and Zach Kuperstein’s camerawork, which employs some remarkable tracking shots during the family celebrations, moving from room to room and window to window like an obsessive observer of events, is noteworthy. The score by Jon Natchez and Martin Mabz incorporates an eclectic variety of songs into the mix, along with the noted “Greek chorus” interludes.

There are a lot of estimable things in “The Climb,” but they’re undermined by a tone that too often calls attention to its supposed smartness.  That, unfortunately, is often the indie way.