As the rom-com becomes evermore stigmatized, it’s easy to understand why screenwriters like Desiree Van Til would try to go outside the norm of the expected when it comes to the standard formula in creating the premise of Tumbledown. Directed by Sean Mewshaw (who has a robust production assistant resume and also happens to be Van Til’s spouse), Tumbledown opens with bereaved writer Hannah Miles (Rebecca Hall) trying to craft the perfect introduction for a book about her recently deceased folk singer husband, Hunter Miles. Feeling verbally impotent and unable to give Hunter the immortalizing eulogy he deserves, Hannah distracts herself with newspaper profiles of local residents in her small Maine town and having casual, impromptu sex with Curtis (Joe Manganiello), the local “Mr. Fix It”-type whose primary allure for Hannah is strictly primal.
Her modes of distraction are disrupted, however, with the arrival of Andrew McCabe (Jason Sudeikis), an associate professor from New York who thinks Hunter would make the perfect subject matter for his upcoming book. Enraged by his aura of entitlement and the fact that he’s already started working on the first few chapters without asking permission, Hannah essentially chases him out of town after ripping up some of the pages of his work right in front of him, much to the entertainment of the local bookstore owner (Griffin Dunne, who needs to come out to play more often). It is in fact he who later suggests to Hannah after reading her rough draft that she should consider giving Andrew a chance at helping her write the biography–after all, she’s too close to the subject matter to look at it objectively.
And so, begrudgingly, she lets Andrew in to her (and Hunter’s) world, offering him a $50,000 advance to assist her. The narrative can almost be predicted from this point forward, barring the aspect of Andrew’s life in which he has a girlfriend, Finley (Dianna Agron), who also shares a semi-interest in music in that she scouts bands for a living. But she’s blond and therefore bound to be frivolous in the end.
As Andrew is allowed further access into Hannah’s life, including meeting with her parents (Blythe Danner always has to play a parent, doesn’t she?) and siblings, we’re expected to see that a gradual and surefire bond is being established, and yet, there is so little chemistry between the two parties that the conclusion of the film seems largely driven by Hannah’s response to Andrew’s question of why she wanted to write a book about Hunter: “I had so much love left in my arsenal and I never got to spend it.” This would appear to the primary reason for her finally giving in to Andrew’s misplaced desire (it feels like he’s more in love with Hunter than her, therefore channels this affection into Hannah). In any case, we’re, of course, given the happy ending we were expecting, even though we weren’t given that much of a viable lead up to it. And in case you were wondering, that Elliott Smith-esque music you were enjoying throughout the film is by Damien Jurado, you know, if you’d prefer to take the most memorable element of Tumbledown with you and leave the lazily cobbled together romance behind.