Mike and Kyle are best friends. They’ve always been best friends and will always be best friends. That might not always be in their best interest, but there it is. Some people you attach yourself to, some people attach themselves to you. And, sometimes, those people sleep with your fiancée.
“[Mike and Kyle have] just one of those relationships that’s so close it’ll never fully be broken,” Michael Angelo Covino says. “And you know that, so [The Climb is] about testing that relationship in various ways over time.”
Written by Covino (who also directs and plays Mike in the film) and Kyle Marvin (who plays Kyle), The Climb is a buddy comedy that doesn’t play the way you expect. The movie opens with Mike and Kyle on a bike ride in France, on a steep hill climb, with Mike revealing he’s having an affair with Kyle’s fiancée. Even better, the scene unfolds in one unbroken 10-minute shot—an adaptation of Covino and Marvin’s initial short, also entitled The Climb. That Climb went to the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and netted Covino and Marvin plenty of attention: Attention that presented opportunity.
“If this short film actually had legs to stretch it out into a feature, what would that be?” Marvin recounts. “What would this friendship look like if we kept going?”
Using the bike ride as a starting point, Marvin and Covino continued to write more vignettes to follow Mike and Kyle throughout the years. And to maintain the look and feel of the original short, they filmed each vignette in single takes. As Covino explains, “to have an aesthetic that felt cohesive to what we were excited about in the short.”
“The short was just a foundation, but it had this sort of bittersweet comedy to it,” Covino continues. “And the aesthetic was very much like living in the immediacy of this long moment.”
An immediacy Covino and Marvin maintained by writing the script in an “elliptical style” with elaborate camera movements and choreography (shot by Zach Kuperstein, edited together by Sara Shaw.)
“Basically saying: OK, we’re gonna have this scene, and then we’re not going to tell all the information that usually is told between this scene and this scene. And we’ll jump ahead two years and let the audience pick it up over here,” Covino says. “The idea was always to live in those scenes, in real-time, in the moment, so we’re getting this slice of life.”
And that “slice of life” gives The Climb resonance. While the movie was on the festival circuit in 2019, Covino says the common reaction from audiences revolved around Mike and Kyle’s close-knit, albeit poisonous relationship. One person would ask why Kyle didn’t just cut Mike loose. “And then the person they came with is like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Covino recounts with a laugh. “Then they start arguing with each other.”
That’s what The Climb is about.
“That question of when someone is toxic, or when you take more than you give, or when you’re in an unhealthy relationship, what do we put up with?” Covino says.
And while most people’s relationships don’t experience the extremes of Mike and Kyle’s relationship, Marvin adds, “There are echoes of those dynamics that exist in everyone’s relationship.”