In the charming and sometimes bittersweet dramedy, Standing Up, Falling Down, Ben Schwartz and Billy Crystal play men adrift in life who forge a fast friendship in suburban Long Island. For Schwartz, it’s a rare chance to play a more dramatic leading role and an opportunity to act alongside an idol and comedy legend in Crystal (who also gets a chance to play in a few serious scenes). For director Matt Ratner, the film marks his debut behind the lens and a chance to tell a story that, according to him, highlights the messiness of life.
Uproxx spoke with Schwartz and Ratner at the Tribeca Film Festival about their motivations for taking on the project. We also discussed the challenge of bringing a true indie film to market, the relatability of failure, the internet’s fixation with the idea of Schwartz as Plastic Man, and which candy makes you taller.
I watched the film early this morning. It was very good. It was at like six o’clock in the morning.
Matt Ratner: If you like it at 6 AM, then you actually like it.
Ben, the experience of your character is one that a lot of people can relate to, maybe not necessarily with comedy, but with failing and winding up living with their parents. Did you, at any point, think that was on the horizon for you?
Ben Schwartz: Failure?
Failure or your dreams not working out?
Schwartz: Yeah, I think especially at the beginning. But I think failure is always there. One of my big drives is like, “Okay, we’ve got this movie,” or like, “We’re doing this movie with Matt and Billy, or we’re doing Sonic. Okay, what’s next? Oh my God, what if there’s not a next?” And there’s that feeling. I think that, maybe it’s because I’m a Jewish guy from the Bronx, but I feel like it’s within a lot of artists that it’s like, “Oh no, what happens? I don’t know where my next job is.” That’s one of my big things: to keep working, writing, acting, or whatever. But at the beginning of my improv career, absolutely. I remember taking classes and not really pushing through yet. Nobody’s coming to our shows, nobody would really care to see us. And I remember watching Asscat [at UCB] and Jack McBrayer was part of Asscat. I thought he was one of the funniest people ever, and he didn’t have a job. And I literally was like, “if people like him and Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel aren’t making money off comedy, then how the hell in a million years can I?” So at the beginning of your career you’re just like, “I’m never going to be able to do this, this is just so hard, and there are so many talented people that haven’t broke through, how am I going to break through?” Absolutely that’s a part of it.
Is that a part of what made you to want to take this on?
Schwartz: Yeah that, and also Matt, the script, and Billy Crystal. I get to act in a movie with Billy Crystal. I mean really act with him. That is, for a comedian and someone who just loves movies, there’s no greater… That’s it for me.
Was that the dream team? Was there anybody else in consideration?
Schwartz: Oh yeah, tell him the other Captain America, the other Avengers.
Ratner: After thirty-five people passed we finally got to Ben.
Schwartz: Very smart.
Ratner: The relationship between the two of them was so fundamental that it was hard to consider individuals as opposed to pairings. One of the things that is challenging about independent film is that if this was a studio movie we would have screen-tested, like crazy, Ben and Billy. Instead, I met with Billy, Ben and I had a couple phone calls, and then once they got formally involved we spent a lot of time working on it. Ben and I actually never physically met until two days before we started shooting. Ben had gone to Billy’s office in Santa Monica to meet Billy, and the two of them called me, and just hearing their camaraderie right away, you sort of felt like we got lucky here, because if they hadn’t hit it off… In a lot of ways, their personal relationship sort of mirrored their relationship with their characters. They became incredibly close over a very short period of time. That’s definitely a case of you’d rather be lucky than good, because you can’t fake that if it’s not there.