The interplay of comedy and drama in a singular work of cinema can be a difficult thing to balance, as the former requires some measure of incredulity while the latter tends to be more grounded so as to be more focused and relatable. There are numerous instances where the so-called dramedy has succeeded, but it’s always a tightrope act that relies heavily on the caliber of the performers and the competence of a director to strike a specific and consistent tone. Suck It Up, the product of director Jordan Canning and writer Julia Hoff, manages to nail the tone aspect of this equation, and the drama also hits home; it’s the comedy that feels out of place, and the film suffers for it.
Following the death of a young man named Garrett, his sister Ronnie (Grace Glowicki) crashes at their parents’ place in a drunken stupor, ruminating on the family she’s lost. Her mother calls Faye (Erin Carter), Garrett’s ex-girlfriend, to come and talk some sense into Ronnie and offer support that she cannot, even though Faye hasn’t been part of the family for several months prior to Garrett’s death. When Faye sees Ronnie, she decides to take her to the family cabin as a retreat, and the two women must come to grips with their grief by learning to deal with one another.
In essence, the set-up is that of an odd couple with a dark edge. Ronnie is a laid-back partier with a severe substance abuse problem, while Faye is a straight-laced planner who is trying to move forward with her life at the expense of dealing with her feelings about the past. The two inevitably learn from one another how to reach a healthier middle ground, and for what it’s worth Glowicki and Carter deliver some pretty dang compelling performances. Carter in particular delivers a monologue about the details of Faye’s and Garrett’s break-up that slays, though Glowicki is no slouch when it comes to the “desperate for love that I don’t deserve” routine.
However, the comic delivery that is peppered throughout the narrative doesn’t always land, and when it does it’s sometimes with a deafening thud. Most of the time the inoffensive jabs between Faye and Ronnie feel less like jokes than playful banter, but the timing of the performances and editing clearly anticipate a disproportionate audience reaction. There are some genuinely funny lines in the mix, usually delivered by a drunken Ronnie as absurdist observation, but there are other moments, such as when a heated argument transitions abruptly into a mud-wrestling match, that jarringly undercut the dramatic weight of the circumstances.
Suck It Up is a reasonably entertaining film, but it just doesn’t quite have enough of a personal identity to knock its delivery out of the park. The plotting is obvious and rote, but there’s a personal edge to Hoff’s screenplay that it wouldn’t surprise me to learn is based in some part on reality. It’s a thematically heavy film that only sometimes succeeds at injecting levity. In other words, Suck It Up is a very mixed bag in terms of overall quality, but it’s competent and heartfelt enough to earn your support.