On the bumpy road to bromance

From Sundance short to prize-winning feature

by Richard Mowe

Roller-coaster ride: Michael Angelo Covino (right) and Kyle Marvin in The Climb
Roller-coaster ride: Michael Angelo Covino (right) and Kyle Marvin in The Climb Photo: Sony Pictures Classic

It’s been a long film-making journey for best buds Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin, whose short film The Climb premiered at Sundance in 2018 - and now the feature derived from it is set to bow in the festival on 26 January with a question and answer session with the pair in ten cinemas across the States before its release on 20 March.

“We’re thrilled to co-create this innovative approach to amplify this remarkable film," said John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival. “We’ve followed The Climb as the filmmakers evolved it from Sundance short to Cannes premiere, and are excited to share the live excitement of a Sundance Film Festival screening with a broader audience, in real time.”

Covino who is director, co-writer and acts alongside co-writer and actor Marvin, met the latter more than ten years ago when they were working on commercials. “We cut our teeth as film-makers while brands paid us to use cameras. We discovered we had the same sense of humour and because we had worked together a lot, that connected our humour,” said Covino when I talked to the pair after its première in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival and subsequent Coup de Coeur prize.

On their bikes … Kyle Marvin (left) and Michael Angelo Covino star as two bickering buddies in the comedy The Climb. Covino directed and co-stars and Marvin also acts and co-writes.
On their bikes … Kyle Marvin (left) and Michael Angelo Covino star as two bickering buddies in the comedy The Climb. Covino directed and co-stars and Marvin also acts and co-writes. Photo: Richard Mowe

Marvin explains that the the story of Kyle and Mike, best friends since childhood - until Mike sleeps with Kyle’s fiancée - was the kernel of an idea that they both felt compelled to follow through. “We had both been producing and doing films for other film-makers,” says Covino. “We thought that this was an opportunity for me step behind the camera. It was a simple premise of two people talking that we had to maintain for seven minutes against the backdrop of cycling up a hill. Once we had done the short and reflected on it, we found that the tone, feeling and emotion that was captured was special and had a bitter-sweet quality. It was tragic but also funny and you were laughing at the pain. We decided to explore what a bigger story around these characters would be.”

As much of the content was semi-autobiographical and the characters share their own names, it was a no-brainer that they would both act in the film. “It wasn’t so we could become rich and famous,” asserts Marvin. “We had the conversation and we decided it was part of the heritage of the movie, and therefore why not? Certainly there are elements of Kyle that are in the Kyle character and elements of Mike that are in the Mike character. All these flaws we hope make us endearing in some kind of way. It is kind of fun to paint caricatures of yourself.

“We both wrote everything for each other’s character and the characters are so well formed because of the other person’s opinion. We both pushed hard against each other. We each might have a perspective on each other’s character that the other might not have and vice versa.”

The result is a rollercoaster ride about the relationship between two men across many years - through relationships, fall-outs, family issues, rebalancing and the boundaries (or not) in all close friendships. The buddies work out the issues through a series of vignettes - each set in a different time and place and all laced together with bromance angst.

The Climb poster
The Climb poster

The opening one-take scene of them cycling up a steep hill under the high bright sun in the South of France as they try to outpace each other sets the scene, with Covino as the more athletic of the pair and overweight Kyle desperately trying to catch up. This is when Michael drops the bombshell that he has been sleeping with his pal’s girlfriend. That is just the start of the bittersweet relationship over the years.

“We did that shot 20 or so times and that’s a lot of bike riding uphill. We shot it 30 minutes from here [Cannes] and it was challenging but less challenging because we could choose how fast we rode and delivered the lines. Some how we had the confidence that we could fly to France and do it with a crew we had not met.”

Covino admits he has drawn on the great traditions of French cinema in dealing with relationships and cites Pierre Etaix’s Le Grand Amour as an influence as well as the work of Claude Sautet, Eric Rohmer, François Truffaut not to mention compatriot Robert Altman.

Covino says he warmed to playing “this obnoxious, sad sack kind of character. I hate him but I guess I also feel sorry for him whereas Kyle tries to see the good in people and sees Mike making these crazy choices. Ultimately friendship supersedes everything else.”

Marvin suggests that there are always people in our lives that we cannot get rid of. “They are toxic and broken but they represent a period of time and shared experiences that keeps them hanging around.”

They like to believe that they will be able to continue making films together. “This is a story we wanted to tell and talks to our generation. It wouldn’t have worked in our twenties. We made it because it is the kind of film we would like to go and see - and it has been a long time coming,” says Covino.

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