What Goes Up (2009)

Watchable

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on June 4, 2009 on tonymacklin.net.

Usually I'm the naysayer, going against the preposterous flackery of such venal arbiters as Pete Hammond and Rex Reed.

But I find myself giving faint praise to a movie that 20 out of 20 reviewers on Rottentomatoes rated "rotten."

I kind of liked What Goes Up.

What Goes Up is an earnest morality tale. It's very uneven, but it also seems sincere. Sincerity is not enough for a positive rating, but it helps.

Much of the sincerity is due to the performance of unassuming actor Steve Coogan. His character is a calm port in the storm of teenage angst.

In What Goes Up it's 1986 and Campbell Babbitt (Coogan) is a New York newspaper reporter who has been emotionally involved in a story he wrote about a heroine who has had a personal tragic loss.

Campbell knows more than he wrote, and his personal knowledge wracks him. Because he becomes ineffective, his editor (Molly Price) sends him to New Hampshire to write an article about students and their reaction to local teacher Christa McAuliffe who is about to go on the Challenger space shuttle.

It's a flight that we know is going to be ill-fated, but writer/director Jonathan Glatzer (and writer Robert Lawson) use it as backdrop and context. They never explicitly take it to its disastrous culmination.

It's another factor in their concept of heroism and its dark side.

In New Hampshire Campbell visits a high school where a former college classmate is a teacher. But he finds out that it seems his acquaintance has committed suicide. The teacher's students -- an outcast bunch -- are mourning his death.

They are a motley crew, and this is where the movie loses some of its credibility. Their youthful eccentricity has little edginess. Granted it's the 1980s, but it's still too mannered and domesticated. Eccentricity has seldom been so tame, which may have motivated some of the negative critical reaction.

The "isolated, potent rejects" are bland. Eventually Lucy (Hilary Duff) and Tess (Olivia Thirlby) separate from the others and become a bit defined.

What Goes Up is a world basically without parents. We only see two parents of all the students. In one scene a mother breaks in to see the bare-arsed body of a girl lying on her son's bed. It's an amusing moment.

Glatzer, with cinematographer Antonio Calvache, has created a good looking movie. But his attention to detail is not always what it should be.

When Lucy drives her car into a phone booth, there is no sound of glass although shattered glass is everywhere.

A long bus ride has only two passengers. Were there no extras in town that day?

When Tess knows what Campbell is about to say on a tv interview, how does she know?

What Goes Up has a vision that seems wayward, and it blinks a lot. Coogan's furtive eyes seem apt.

But the total critical aversion seems unfair. Coogan's performance alone makes the movie of some value. And the themes, though convoluted, have meaning.

What Goes Up is a movie that one decides whether or not he is going to root for. It may not deserve pom-poms, but neither does it deserve disdain.

What Goes Up is a ride on a merry-go-round, when it probably should be a roller coaster.

But I admit it. I occasionally enjoy a ride on a merry-go-round.


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