Starring: Jon Ryan, Maria Natapov, Hana Carpenter
Directed by: Frankie Frain (“Sexually Frank”)
Written by: Geoff Tarulli (debut)
In “Having Fun Up There,” 37-year-old musician Mark (Jon Ryan) is struggling to keep his life together. After a series of bad gigs and going nowhere in the music industry, Mark can’t seem to catch a break with his job, his personal relationships or his music career. As he struggles in all of these areas, Mark gives thought to growing up and changing the way he lives his life.
It is no secret that the main reason “Having Fun Up There” works on the levels it does is because of Ryan, who is absolutely hilarious as the cynical Mark. His sarcastic, dry wit mixed with perfect comedic timing makes Ryan look like a natural and even his non-sequiturs are frequently laugh out loud funny. In its brightest moments, the film’s script truly provides Ryan with a great showcase for his strong comedic ability and can be seen as a bright newcomer. Anyone who has ever been in the band will instantly connect to the film’s commentary on being a flamed out or struggling musician.
As two females emerge as important parts of Mark’s life, one story is sweet and fun to watch and the other isn’t at all. When Mark meets Carla (Maria Natapov) in a bar, they instantly decide to become best friends and their relationship becomes more complex as Mark essentially enables Carla in her alcoholism and Carla uses Mark in different ways. It’s a nasty sort of relationship that feels off-putting anytime it is on screen. On the other hand, Mark’s relationship with Kerry (Hana Carpenter), a girl who is a long time fan of Mark’s music is really interesting to watch as the jaded musician Mark is juxtaposed against an eager and happy Kerry. It doesn’t hurt that Carpenter’s performance is totally charming and she plays really well off of Ryan.
Somewhere around the middle of the film, however, there is a distinct shift from comedy to drama and that is where the film begins to fall apart. The aforementioned complexities of the Mark and Carla relationship really don’t work as both characters attempt to simply drink away their issues. While the relationship with Kerry and Mark is so good for a good chunk of the film, the conflict there as well as the resolution isn’t nearly as satisfying.
Few films have captured the essence of being a musician in a smaller/local band as well as “Having Fun Up There” does. It contains so many truly hilarious moments having to do with playing terrible gigs, navigating through band practices with busy outside schedules and the sheer struggle of not “making it.” All of these positives are why it is so frustrating that the film is so front loaded and while succeeding mightily at times on the comedic front, can’t quite hit the right dramatic notes to make a complete film.