The Hornby hook comes early in A Long Way Down. Disgraced talk show host Martin Sharp (Pierce Brosnan) introduces himself while preparing for his New Year's Eve leap from a London high-rise known as Topper House. A long climb up and a long cigar lit, Martin is on the edge when he's interrupted in quick succession by the timid Maureen (Toni Collette), a frantic Jess (Imogen Poots), and the withdrawn J.J. (Aaron Paul). With this meet-cute of thwarted suicide, author Nick Hornby (About a Boy) establishes a tone of sentimental black humor, and director Pascal Chaumeil (Heartbreaker) orchestrates the encounter as the formation of rag-tag band where each player gets a stirring solo number in voiceovers that echo the novel's alternating first person narrative.
All jittery bravado as a Tory politician's impulsive daughter, Poots is a lively counterpoint to Brosnan’s smug discontent. Paul's American musician has a quiet intensity, but he's been stripped of a backstory and the ability to articulate his pain. (Collette and Poots sing, but Paul doesn't perform.)
The group's surprising anchor is Maureen, the single mother of an adult son with cerebral palsy; her fierce love and stifling isolation are contained by careful routine. Collette wears that armor, and cracks it, to devastating effect. In a wintry London that's sometimes snowy and always chilly, this unlikely quartet becomes a tabloid sensation, with Maureen's guileless resilience guiding them from public joke to private happiness with an ease that Hornby eschews and feel-good movies demand.