SXSW Film Review – Kilimanjaro
When our relationships come to an end, we fill our time with activities to help us move on. Some get on an exercise program, others take up hobbies they’ve never tried, and some jump right back into the dating scene. We try to do anything and everything to forget the people who have left us, and sometimes we discover things about ourselves we never knew. How does that saying go? “Every time a chapter ends, a new one begins”? That’s what writer/director Walter Strafford examines with Kilimanjaro. The title might be a little misleading. This is less about the mountain than it is about the man who wants to climb it. The main character believes taking this trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and must seize upon it before real life snatches it away.
Doug (Brian Geraghty) is in a little bit of a funk. His life has devolved into a routine of habits: wake up, brush teeth, go to job, eat, sleep. When he and his girlfriend Clare (Alexia Rasmussen) decide to call it quits, it’s not because they’ve fallen out of love, but because it is the only thing they can do to ignite some spark in their lives. This comes as a disappointment to Doug’s parents, who eagerly anticipated the two getting married and settling down. Instead, Clare settles down on the couch of a friend, while Doug is stuck in an apartment he can longer afford. That must be tough; he works long hours for a boss (Jim Gaffigan) who takes him for granted, and still doesn’t make enough to keep a roof over his head.
One night while watching TV, Doug develops a plan to travel to Africa and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Why? I don’t think even Doug can answer that, but for some reason he feels passionately about it. He convinces his friend Mitch (Chris Marquette) to go along with him, and to invest some of his money upfront (since Mitch makes a lot more money than Doug does). Right away, we get a sense that both Doug and Mitch are in a little over their heads with this plan. Neither of them seems to realize the amount of effort and dedication it takes to accomplish such a feat. When their climbing instructor describes the physical difficulty they’ll endure, they both brush it off, saying that the only thing they’ll need to worry about is the altitude. In fact, most times we see Doug and Mitch throwing back a couple of beers talking about the climbing instead of actually training for it.
And there are other obstacles. We quickly learn that the focus is about Doug and the people who revolve around him rather than his trip. Doug’s relationship with Clare is the classic off-again-on-again type. Neither of them can commit to breaking up, and yet neither wants to go back to being a lifeless couple again. At the same time, Doug begins a flirtation with Yvonne (Abigail Spencer), a medical center receptionist who seems interesting and eccentric, and who might actually be into Doug if he only had the nerve to make a move. This sorta-kinda love triangle never develops into anything worthwhile, as it is a result of Doug’s inability to make a firm decision about his life. Mitch, while being the stereotypical “best friend who’s also a jerk,” reflects our impatience with Doug, and while his efforts to sway Doug into actually doing something seem wrong at first, we understand where Mitch is coming from.
While the title indicates one thing, Mt. Kilimanjaro never really functions as a necessary component to the plot. It acts only as the macguffin, the thing that Doug centers on and bases his actions toward. Doug tries his best to make his trip work, even though money, support, and resources begin to wear down on him. Kilimanjaro here acts as a metaphor—one big, heavy, blatant metaphor—representing the challenges of Doug’s life. It couldn’t be clearer even if it was spelled out with an enormous, glowing, neon sign. Doug’s juggling act involving his responsibilities, his family, his job, and his relationships turns out to be “the mountain” he has to overcome. This allegory suffers under heavy-handedness. There is nothing subtle about naming the movie Kilimanjaro, as the connections are made much too easily.
That isn’t to say this is a bad movie; I just wish it were better. Brian Geraghty is very good at playing an introvert, Chris Marquette brings a unique presence to his scenes, and both Alexia Rasmussen and Abigail Spencer make the most of the material they’re given. There’s a realistic approach taken, but what we miss is energy between the scenes. Never did I feel the urge to learn more about these characters as they moved about their lives. Never did I feel invested in what happened, nor in what the future may hold for them. Films have the ability to show the uniqueness of everyday life—this showed everyday life, but nothing all that unique.
Final Grade: C+