4 friends, 260 blocks and a whole lot of talking.
The premise for Growing Up and Other Lies is interesting, a journey from the top of Manhattan to the bottom to commemorate the leaving of a friend. The premise lends itself to wonderful interplay of various emotions to New York landmarks, to have suspense as the story unfolds and a final revelation of modern life, friendship and growing up. This film does none of that and ultimately falls flat despite its best intentions.
A young talented quartet of actors do the best with the source material in front of them. Australian Josh Lawson keeps up his assault on the US, graduating from small parts to a lead role after his directorial Australian based debut The Little Death turned many heads in 2014. Here he is likable if not relatable. A man still pining over his ex-girlfriend (Amber Tamblyn) and torn between leaving New York to help his father and their family business in Ohio and staying with the life he knows. The character is not relatable, but is pleasurable in comparison to his friends. Gunderson (Wyatt Cenac), Rocks (Adam Brody) and Billy (Danny Jacobs) are just unlikable. Gunderson plays a casual anarchist, relishing in any opportunity to put down or antagonise his friends, Rocks is distant from his pregnant wife, his man child uncertainty being less about discovery and more about apathy. Worst is Billy who plays a neurotic copycat to his friends, lacking backbone and feeling like the runt of the litter being blown in the wind while trying to earn the respect of everyone around him. The characters suggest this is their first complete interaction in over a year, and it is understandable considering how self interested they seem aside from Billy’s puppy dog dedication. The characters are on a journey and each has something to achieve, but it is questionable if any progress is really made.
A delight of the film is the setting. New York lends itself to film, it is a concrete jungle, each area looking slightly different but always vibrant with activity and human achievement. It is easy for the individual (or group) to be lost in this man made maze, as we have seen in many indie films, Woody Allen masterpieces and even TV series like Louie. We balance the concrete with them starting at a bridge in Inwood and traversing coffee shops, apartments, Central Park and much more as the characters look to reach Battery Park in the south. The sprawl is a joy to see and while not the most pornographic look at Manhattan, it is a very grounded real view of the iconic city. I am ready to book my flights and put on my shoes to attempt this feat myself after viewing the film.
A concept, a location and a talented cast is unfortunately wasted here. I wanted to like the film being a fan of the cast, enjoying the visual setting and even the now well trodden male growth genre being something i find engaging when discussed on film. It is a shame then that Growing Up and Other Lies falls flat, failing at the characterisation that should be central to the narrative and muddying the narrative itself. Good things may come in the future for the pair behind the film, but this effort won’t set the world ablaze just yet.