The Climb begins with a deliciously funny nine-minute single take, as best friends Mikey (Michael Angelo Covino) and Kyle (Kyle Marvin) cycle up a steep hill in France. As Kyle waxes poetic about the wonderful woman he’s about to marry, Mikey cuts him off and confesses that he has been sleeping with that same woman for the last three years. “I’m gonna kill you when I catch you!”, Kyle vows, to which Mikey replies, “I know! That’s why I waited until the hill,” and pedals away from him. Covino is also the writer and director on this comedy that opens at Grand Berry Theater this week, and the exquisite comic timing of this sequence shows that he’s a talent to watch out for.
Turns out screwing his best friend’s fiancée is only the beginning for Mikey, who outright steals away the woman in question (Judith Godrèche) and marries her. She dies soon thereafter, and Mikey can’t stop going on about how great his life was with her in front of Kyle. Then he starts a fistfight with the cemetery workers at her funeral. For all the hats that Covino wears on this project, his greatest achievement might just be his performance in the lead role. By all rights, we should hate Mikey for the way he takes advantage of Kyle and for all the havoc he wreaks on everyone around him. Yet this tousle-haired, lumpen sad sack seems so hapless in the face of the misfortunes that frequently befall him — he indeed is beaten to a pulp at the end of that bike ride, not by Kyle but rather by a passing French motorist whom Mikey verbally abused earlier. Later, Kyle’s family invites Mikey over for Christmas dinner, and he shows up late and heavily drunk, and destroys the family coffee table by passing out on top of it. Covino invests Mikey with enough self-loathing that he seems to detest himself scarcely less than everyone else, and it gives pungency to the comedy.
There’s more craftsmanship going on here than might appear to the naked eye. The story is divided into chapters that take place over several years in Mikey and Kyle’s friendship, and Covino shoots these in long, intricately choreographed single takes. Some of these clearly were not actually filmed in one shot but rather in multiple shots stitched together to look continuous à la Birdman. Regardless, this low-budget affair contains some impressive technical work in this framework, especially in one bit when a character falls through the frozen surface of a lake. Breaking up the story are some musical interludes, with the cemetery workers singing a closely harmonized version of “I Shall Not Be Moved” and two skiers doing coordinated jumps and spins on a ski slope.
We have so many movies about marriages that go sour and relatively few ones about friendships that take this route. Maybe you have someone in your life like Mikey. If you’re lucky enough not to, The Climb remains a funny and perspicacious look at what a drag your best friend can be.
Starring Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin. Written and directed by Michael Angelo Covino. Rated R.