Perhaps it’s best to talk about what should go down in Jonathan Glatzer’s black comedy about a reporter (Coogan) stuck in New Hampshire on his way to cover the impending—and ultimately disastrous—1986 Challenger Shuttle launch. Let’s start with the writer-director’s paralleling of the historical tragedy-to-be with various personal calamities: the journalist harbors a damning secret, a small town’s beloved teacher commits suicide, a gothlike pupil (Thirlby) is being abused at home. These are all rendered with the subtlety of a revved-up rocket engine. We might mention the heavy reliance on Americana mockery, which reduces every local yokel to an ugly-suburbanite caricature. (Congratulations, Molly Shannon: Your self-righteous teacher who stages tacky pageants takes the proverbial cake.) Finally, there’s the film’s extreme copycatting of a certain generic, Sundance-approved template—the one that perpetuates the notion that quirky characters plus slightly left-of-center jokes somehow equals deep insight into the human condition.
It doesn’t, alas, and if What Goes Up is what we can expect in the post-Juno era of alt-dramedy programming, then burn, Indiewood, burn! There’s nothing here but recycled scraps done up in dark nail polish, and even Coogan’s comic chops—nobody does stuttering befuddlement better—can’t ixnay the déjà vu. Never mind taking flight; this movie barely gets itself off the ground.