Thursday, August 14, 2014

About Alex (**)

Written and Directed by Jesse Zwick


I'm not sure who was asking for a Big Chill for millennials, but we just got it. It's an interesting thing to watch a film like About Alex which is so sentimental and obsessed with nostalgia that it's both nostalgic about the 80's - it's film and music culture - while also being nostalgic about it's present young adult generation, an aimless group of people who are starting families later in life and complaining about student loans earlier than ever. We're bitter about the misdeeds of our parents' generation, we're angry that college is impossibly expensive and we're fucking furious that we bounced right into the worst job market since The Great Depression. Or at least, that's what filmmaker Jesse Zwick seems to want us to think. About Alex collects a serviceable cast filled with actors that are known mostly for television and gives them a plot that's probably more suitable for a television pilot, giving us only snippets of character while following through on a very film student-y script that never really disappoints but surely never really excites. It's ideas are noble enough and it has a cast that at least seems excited to plow through them, but the film really only touches the surface of the darker issues that it really wants to tackle.

It's supposed to be a movie about suicide. The titular Alex (Jason Ritter) starts the film off by slitting his wrists in the bathtub - he announces the act with a cryptic tweet then drops is phone in the water. He survives, but the news of his attempt spreads quickly to his group of college friends who all come together in Alex's country cabin to spend time with him in his time of need. They're coming together also because they haven't spent much time together for a very long time. Adulthood has brought in full time jobs, moves to different cities and has left little time to mingle with former friends. But now they're all back, under the same roof. This includes Sarah (Aubrey Plaza), a tax adjuster whose real passion lies in cooking. There's Isaac (Max Minghella), the friend Sarah used to be in love with but who arrives at the cabin with an unknown, much younger girlfriend, Kate (Jane Levy). There's Josh (Max Greenfield), the friend who Sarah can't help but hook-up with every time they meet, but who's unbearable, pedantic personality makes you wonder how he keeps any friends, let alone several - he's the pontificator behind you in the movie line that Woody Allen talks about in Annie Hall. Josh's true feelings were for Siri (Maggie Grace) a tall, sporting beauty who instead fell in love with Josh's roommate Ben (Nate Parker). Ben, of all the friends, has been the most successful post-college, a published author, but he was also the closest to Alex and ignored him at his time of most desperation.

One of About Alex's biggest problems is how little it cares about the suicide at the center of its plot. These friends gather to support Alex, supposedly, but wouldn't you know, they use it as an excuse to have a reunion party, drag up both old issues and new ones. Josh is still using Sarah as his sex receptacle and Sarah still pines after Isaac. Meanwhile, Ben's success on the surface hides the fact that he's been blocked for close to a year and is at a crossroads with Siri when she finds out that she's been given a fellowship that requires her to move to the West Coast. Alex seems more than happy to have all his old friends together in one place, though he'd rather not have them follow him around the entire time. If I was not already a fan of Max Greenfield from his work on the show New Girl I don't know if I would have been as tolerant of his performance here. There are ways to give a character like Josh complexity beyond the erudite asshole, but Greenfield plays only one note throughout the entire film  - not that the screenplay gives him any help where that's considered. There are scenes of real tenderness in About Alex, most of them dealing with the relationship between Alex and Ben. Parker and Ritter seem to have an understanding of the dire nature of the scenario that the rest of the cast doesn't seem clued into. There are ways to make films about our generation that don't duplicate the films of older ones. Perhaps it would have been better if this movie wasn't actually about millennials and actually about Alex. 

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