Screened At: SXSW 2013
Directed By: Walter Strafford
Starring: Brian Geraghty, Chris Marquette, Abigail Spencer, Alexia Rasmussen, Jim Gaffigan
“Kilimanjaro” is very clearly labeled a romantic drama, but with a title like that, you expect at least a little suspense, even if it can only exist in the realm of relationship woes. However, Brian Geraghty’s Doug is just too meek, predictable and almost detached to spark much emotion from a viewer.
Doug and Clare (Geraghty and Alexia Rasmussen) are the perfect couple. They share a nice apartment, each set of parents approves of the relationship, and they’re right on the cusp of taking that next big step – until Clare decides to move out. Doug’s completely thrown off, his mundane, repetitive existence even more unappealing than usual, until he finds solace in the idea of doing something different, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
“Kilimanjaro” is far gentler and duller than the name suggests. Writer-director Walter Strafford does a solid job of making the story, world and characters feel real and relatable, but the story, world and characters are too unexceptional to make the film compelling.
There are narrative issues right from the start. Clare decides to break up with Doug because another couple’s relationship looks more appealing – an irrational and unlikely reason for someone to end a solid, long-term relationship. Clare’s decision-making becomes even more unfounded as the film progresses, as even though she’s the one that opts to move out, she’s always the one who refuses to let Doug go.
And it’s no wonder; Doug’s a good guy. In fact, he’s too good of a guy to lead a movie. Geraghty turns Doug into an adorable, soft-spoken, hardworking cutie, but he’s got little to no emotional range, making him entirely predictable. Even though he’s ready to commit to moving on and leaving Clare behind, you just know that each and every time she calls him, he’s going to answer. The only time the pattern is ever shaken up is if someone else pressures Doug or just flat out makes the move for him.
That weak nature is exacerbated further by the fact that Doug is surrounded by far more colorful characters. Clare is fairly blah, further solidifying the duo as the too-perfect couple, but then there’s Mitch who has no filter, Doug’s father (Bruce Altman) who’s overbearing to the max, and Doug’s fling, Yvonne (Abigail Spencer), who’s so wacky, she seems a little out of her mind. In this world of eccentric characters, Doug takes the form of the itty-bitty pushover with a laughably fake limp whining over his Kilimanjaro trip.
And even that wouldn’t have been such a terrible thing had the trip actually meant something to the audience. The idea to climb the mountain pops into Doug’s head courtesy of some channeling surfing. There’s nothing wrong with random instances of inspiration, but the script never backs it up. All of a sudden, the idea is there and then it’s the be all, end all. Why? It’s tough to say. In fact, Doug never really says it himself. He tells a number of people the trip is really important to him, but never elaborates. Geraghty does manage to establish a connection between the viewer and Doug through his natural, charming performance, but because we have no reason to believe his end goal is as important as he says it is, the movie loses a good deal of its build and forward motion.
“Kilimanjaro” is just mediocre all around. Minus the aforementioned limp, no one’s doing anything terribly wrong and the film is proficient enough, but there’s just nothing there to spark excitement, making the large majority of the piece fall flat.