‘The Climb’: Real-Life Best Friends Channel Their Experiences Into a Winning Dramedy
The complicated relationship between a pair of best friends unfolds in “The Climb,” a clever comedy made by a pair of real-life pals, Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin. Not only did the duo write the screenplay together, which was adapted from a short they previously made, but they also starred as the main characters, conveniently named Mike and Kyle, and Covino directed. Both men recently spoke with Entertainment Voice via Zoom about the film, a rare bromance movie inspired by French cinema of the sixties, seventies and eighties that explores the ups and downs of a male friendship.
“The Climb” opens up with Kyle and Mike are biking uphill in France days before Kyle is set to wed his French fiancée, Ava (Judith Godrèche). As Mike is the more natural athlete, he takes advantage of his being ahead of his pal by choosing then to reveal that he has been sleeping with Ava for the past three years. It’s quite a memorable opening that sets the tone for the rest of the film. According to Covino, it took two days and 20 takes to get it right.
“It was absolutely physically rigorous, because we’d do the whole take and that’s quite a bit of biking uphill each time we did it,” recalled Marvin, who revealed that the exercise was helpful for the physical transformation he had to go through, as getting in shape is a big part of Kyle’s journey.
Although Covino and Marvin are close in real life and the characters and situations depicted in “The Climb” are inspired by their own lives, they deny that their on-screen counterparts are just exaggerated versions of themselves. “In terms of our real-life friendship, Mike hasn’t slept with my wife, that I know of,” revealed Marvin. “Not yet,” jested Covino.
Mike is self-centered and outspoken, while Kyle is more eager to keep the peace and please those around him. “I try to say ‘no,’ but I’m sure you can find a couple of people in my life who would say I’m like the character in the movie,” said Covino, which got a laugh from Marvin.
Covino continued, “The initial conceit for the film was loosely based on an experience I had with a friend of mine and one of my ex-girlfriends, them sleeping together and me finding out about it. That’s about it. From there, we really fictionalized it and created a whole different world and characters that we felt like we were really interested in playing and exploring.”
Although “The Climb” isn’t completely autobiographical, both Marvin and Covino admitted to having parts of both characters inside each of them. In fact, they even contemplated playing opposite characters, and went as far as rehearsing with their roles flipped, although it didn’t feel right in the end. “In a lot of ways, it was more exciting for me to play Kyle’s role and more exciting for him to play my role, but we just landed on doing it this way,” explained Covino. “I don’t know if it felt easier, but it just felt like the right decision.”
While we don’t get a ton of backstory about Kyle and Mike, it is clear that they have a strong attachment, as they have the kind of bond that could have only been forged during their formative years, back when they were best buds in high school. And while there is a point where it looks like a reconciliation would be impossible –– Mike not only sleeps with Ava, he also goes on to marry her –– they eventually become close again, but only after poor Ava is dead and buried.
Just as was the case with Kyle and Mike, Covino managed to eventually patch things up with the friend who slept with his ex. “There was an element of questioning myself and trying to ask myself, ‘Why do I feel entitled to be upset about this when me and this person have broken up?’ ‘Why do I feel ownership over another human being in this way or feel an instinct to feel betrayed?’ I started asking myself those questions and questioning why we’re programmed with these ideas and whether or not they’re valid. You can look past and understand that there’s a valid friendship there that you want to preserve.”
“The Climb” is broken into seven different chapters, which helps with the pacing and gives the film the feeling of a saga. “This idea of elliptical storytelling, where you come and go into the character lives –– You don’t get all the information, but you play catch up and fill in the blanks once you come into a new scene, these vignettes,” explained Covino. “That just felt like the way we wanted to tell this story and the way we wanted to reveal information, so the chapters just came organically out of that.”
By the third chapter, which takes place the Thanksgiving after Ava’s death, Kyle has reunited with Marissa (Gayle Rankin), his high school girlfriend who dumped him during their first semester of college. Marissa is an interesting character, because while she has valid criticisms of Kyle and pushes him to stand up for himself, Mike sees her as someone who is trying to change his friend. Meanwhile, Suzi (Talia Balsam), Kyle’s mother, has bad feelings towards Marissa stemming from her past mistreatment of her son, but, ironically, forgives Mike and pushes Kyle to do the same. She even takes the step of inviting Mike to Thanksgiving without consulting with Kyle first.
Said Covino of Marissa, “They have these subjective opinions about her that are based on their experiences from long ago, but once you get to know her, she’s just a real living, breathing individual with her own wants and needs, and she’s completely valid in that, maybe more so than some of the other people in the film.”
While it is not off base to call Marissa the antagonist of the story, this is only because it is being told from the perspective of Mike and Kyle’s relationship. “If we were to have shifted the movie and told it through Kyle and Marissa’s relationship and watched it only through that lens, Mike would then clearly be the antagonist,” explained Marvin, who went on to praise Rankin for bringing Marissa to life, as the actress dug deep to understand all her nuances. “She brought a lot to the table in terms of making that character as fully formed as she comes across in the film.”
Covino went on to discuss Suzi, who, like Marissa, always seems to have Kyle’s best interests at heart. “Her character is really, in a way, a catalyst in the film. She’s the one who sets the story back in motion. We loved the idea of these two men toiling through life with women around them who are, in some ways, telling them what to do, indirectly or indirectly, influencing and affecting them, and they’re kind of struggling to hold on to their relationship.”
Originally, Covino and Marvin wanted to take their time with the shoot in order to allow for their changing looks to mark the different seasons depicted in the film, but ultimately ended up on a faster track. “I was almost 230 pounds when we first started, and during the shoot, which was two monts, I lost almost 30 pounds while filming, so it was this insane regiment of not eating, exercising three times a day, and then filming in the midst of all this complicating producing we were doing at the same time, so it was a pretty arduous physical transformation, and one that I don’t even know pays off in the movie,” said Marvin with a laugh.
As modest as Marvin is about his transformation, his weight loss is evident in a charming and funny scene in which he seduces Marissa in his parents’ basement by dancing to Shawn Mullins’ 1998 hit “Lullaby.” “Mike and I were always talking about songs from our childhood that had that nostalgia, but more obscure, specific nostalgia, and that one just kept coming up for us, and one that we thought was really funny, and just the way it was spoken in a seductive way felt like the right fit.”
While “The Climb” is the kind of character-driven comedy that reveals emotional truths, Covino and Marvin claim they mainy set out to distract people for 95 minutes. Said Covino, “You can’t speak to the specifics of what messages and themes you want them to connect with, but I do think the hope was to make an entertaining film that people would walk out of the theater, maybe not smiling or laughing, but, at least, feeling that they experienced something that brought them some amount of entertainment.”
“The Climb” releases Nov. 13 in select cities.