Sony Pictures Classics releases The Climb only in theaters November 13th, 2020.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to find a way to hook the audience with the opening scene?
Michael Angelo Covino: We had a different beginning that ended up not being the beginning, but I think that when we decided to open the film with the bike ride and cut right into these two guys on the side of the mountain riding up a hill, the playfulness of the heavy breathing and the uncertainty of what was going on felt tonally right. It was right in the wheelhouse of what's essentially a love story between these two men. The subtext that's there is like, "Oh, they're having sex. Oh no, wait they're riding bikes, but really they might as well be having sex because they're in love with each other."
NYC MOVIE GURU: It's refreshing to watch a movie like The Climb that doesn't spoon-feed the audience with clear-cut messages. It's up to the audience to define what a good friendship is. How important is it to you as filmmakers to avoid spoon-feeding the audience? How would you define a good friendship?
Kyle Marvin: I think that we set out with that exact mentality. For one, it's more fun to watch a movie when you aren't being spoon-fed. The morality of it as well as the actual function of where you are and the story of it. So, I think that, for us, we were pushing away from that inherently in the way that we were approaching the storytelling. In terms of what makes a good friendship, I think that that's a tricky if not impossible question. I think that what keeps Mike and Kyle's relationship alive is a foundation of love and shared experience which amalgamates into a connection that you can't ever let go. It's a core of who you are mixed with a love for another human being which can't ever be diluted no matter how far you push it.
MAC:What we're interested in doing with this movie and maybe with movies in the future is not setting out with a message and clearly defining things for the audience, but rather, like storytelling has always been since the beginning of time, which is to portray something that people can relate to and to draw their own conclusions. The most potent way that people can learn and process and have any sort of revelation is through self-reflection and self-revelation. As filmmakers, it's really tough because there are these beautiful films that come out, but they hammer the message in and tell people what to feel and what to think. If you already feel that way, then it's very gratifying to have a film or a story reaffirm your pre-existing beliefs, but what's really interesting to us is to portray a friendship or just put a story out there and then have conversations with people afterwards where someone comes up to us and they go, "I don't understand why they stayed friends. I wouldn't buy it." And then the person right next to them goes, "What are you talking about? I completely understood it." And then this dialogue occurs and then they tell you about a person in their life who has almost the exact same dynamic.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Between the audience judging the characters and just experiencing them, which do you think would be the better approach to watching The Climb?
KM: Hands-down, experiencing them.
MAC: People are welcome to do whatever the hell that they want. That's the beauty of it. We didn't make The Climb expecting that everyone's going to love it; we made it expecting that we were going to be create, in some circumstances, very unlikable characters, but, hopefully, understandable and relatable characters that would make you go, "I get that person." or "I believe that person exists and therefore I'm willing to go on this journey and maybe be surprised by the turns that it takes." We portray the character of Marissa in a certain way at the onset, and that's an intentional lense in which we're viewing her through because it has the subjectivity of the entire family's perspective. But that lense shifts at a certain point and you realize that she's a person with her own wants and her own needs and is right in that as well. If this whole story were told from her perspective at the outset, she'd be the protagonist and Mike would be the villain. Those are the tools that we have at our disposal as filmmakers to choose that.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you know when to trust the audience's patience?
MAC: Patience is sort of our mantra going into this film. That was the word that we discussed over and over again, certainly with our DP. Kyle and I were like, "We're going to be patient with this movie. There's going to be a level of patience and then it's going to be interrupted with impulsiveness. So, it was a mixture of patience and impulsiveness that would lead to, maybe, surprising moment or this dichotomy of, "We're trying to be patient, but often times we aren't." It's interrupted by just instinct or impulsiveness by the camera, by the characters, by circumstances, and that's what, hopefully, leads to a more exciting and surprising viewing experience.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to drama with just the right amount of comedy?
MAC: It is a subjective thing, so we could only go based on the truthfulness in performance and motivation of character, but everything, sort of, emanates from character first. Everything we do emanates from, "Why are these characters doing what they're doing?" We might have a blueprint for what situationally we wanted to happen, but we can never get there if we don't understand how the characters are motivated to make the decisions. The challenge for us was, "You best friend is sleeping with your fiance, and we're going to end up laughing about it." Those two things seem like they're not going to go hand-in-hand, but as long as the characters are understood and the way in which they process and speak to each other feel real to us, then we could go on this more absurdist journey in terms of laughing at the darkest things in life, laughing at a funeral, laughing at these really harsh situations. What we found in that is that we could create these high stakes and real emotions for characters, and as long as we nail that, we would get this really beautiful opportunity to interrupt that and subvert that with comedy which is essentially just the relieving of the tension that we created. So, that became this line that we were always on where we were going, "Ok, are we on the emotional journey here? Great. Can we have a joke here or do we have to remove the joke? Are we going to undermine the entire journey of these characters and the stakes and the audience's experience of what's happening in this scene if we go too far with a pratfall?
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that audiences are conditioned by Hollywood when it comes to what they should expect to happen in a movie? One of the great qualities of The Climb is that it subverts your expectations and feels unpredictable, like in the scene when Mike and Marissa kidnap Kyle.
MAC: We've never talked about that scene in interviews before. Isn't that funny? It's like a very forgettable scene, but it's like my favorite moment.
KM: Whaaat? It's like my favorite scene! That was definitely something that we were aware of the landscape of contemporary comedy and the zeitgeist and what's playing at film festivals. We approached that in a way where we were like, "How do we subvert certain things?"
MAC: "How do we make ourselves excited about making this film because we haven't seen something exactly like this done before?" We're not trying to tell a new story, but to have it experienced in a different and fresh way.
NYC MOVIE GURU: The scene with the two old men just sitting down and licking ice cream cones stands out for some reason and I can't help, but to think that there might've been some kind of meaning behind it or . Is that accurate?
MAC: Did you ever think that it was Mike and Kyle? We didn't give you enough time with the dialogue because Mike starts talking right away.
KM: Was there an instance where you were like, "That's them!"? NYC MOVIE GURU: Yes! MAC: That's my grandfather.
KM:That was a visual that when we came across that, we were like, "Oh my god, this is fuckin' great!" Those two old guys eating ice cream together.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that Kyle truly grows and learns from his mistakes throughout the film?
KM: I think that we incrementally grow, so I don't think that he's brashly saying "No" to his mom all of the time, but I do think that breaking the rule every once in a while and seeing that you don't die from it certainly opens up our experience to say, "You know what? The opening is there and I survived to know, so maybe that's not as bad as I once imagined." I think getting over the hump of it is probably the hardest.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that Kyle's mother is toxic? At least when Kyle sets a boundary by saying "No!" to her, she's not toxic or controlling enough to snap back, "That was necessarily fresh.", so she respects his clear-cut boundaries.
KM: I don't think that anyone is as toxic as they are talked about in the movie. Even in real life, people tend to say a little bit more than the reality or their observation which might be just a sliver of a human being personified in one moment. Something that we were exploring is the perception of characters, and you, as an audience member, only knowing the perception. Like, the family members' perception of Marissa goes like, "We don't like her. Why?" And then no one ever answers that question because we don't know.
MAC: Well, the mom answers. She goes, "Because."
NYC MOVIE GURU: When Kyle bumps into Mike at the bike shop, was there more to that scene at one point?
MAC: There's not a big speech. The rest of that scene is Kyle walking in and going, "What is this?" and Mike goes, "It's a bike shop/coffee shop." And Kyle goes, "Did you guys plan this?" and Mike says, "No.", and Kyle walks out the door, takes his cappuccino and throws it against the wall. He comes back in and goes, "I don't need people fixing things for me. If I wanted to see you, I would've seen you." And then Mike goes, "Okay." and Kyle goes, "It's a nice place." And Mike goes, "Yeah, do you want a cappuccino?" and Kyle replied, "Sure." and Mike says, "I'll make a better one. I made that last one for her, but I didn't really put his heart into it".---like the idea that Mike made it shitty on purpose. Then we're just standing in the bike shop. But it resolved the relationship too early, and it was just too much denouement.
NYC MOVIE GURU: The Climb has many forms of poetry throughout it. Poetry, after all is a protest, so what would you say The Climb is a protest for or against?
MAC: I guess that it's a protest of the black-and-white nature of the ways in which we see things without any grey area.
KM: The moral clarity.
MAC: It's a protest of moral binaries of things that are either good or bad and there's no in between. It's really just a poem to the messiness of love and the way that we see romanticism which is often false and subjective and a bit delusional, but always messy and always complicated and never how we imagine that it would be.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that Mike will ever truly forgive Kyle?
MAC: I don't think that Mike ever lets go of anything. The way that his character acts and overreacts has a lot to do with someone who keeps everything bottled up and doesn't let go. I don't think that Mike went and married Ava without ever letting go of the betrayal of his friend and the fact that, in order to be with the love of his life, he had to lose the other love of his life, and then he loses her and has nothing, so he wants it back, but he can't have it. It all weighs on him and it shows in the way that he abused alcohol and lives life like a bit of a sad sack.