Director: Jesse Zwick
Writers: Jesse Zwick
Producer: Adam Saunders
Starring: Nate Parker, Jason Ritter, Maggie Grace, Max Greenfield, Aubrey Plaza, Max Minghella, Jane Levy
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 96 min.
Regardless of how much or little we use it, technology has affected the way we communicate. It wasn’t uncommon for college friends to keep in touch via birthday and Christmas cards but it seems that in today’s connected culture, even email feels like too much work when you can just send someone 140 characters or a “Like.” Are we really so into ourselves that sending an email to an old friend is too much work?
For his directorial debut Jesse Zwick, son of Hollywood heavyweight Edward Zwick, begina by exploring some of these themes before About Alex turns into a familiar story of old friends coming together after years of not really talking. In this case, they all come together over Alex (Jason Ritter), the shy and sensitive one of the group who seems to be stuck in a pre “always connected” world. He’s been creeping his friend’s social networks but hasn’t managed to really connect with them in a meaningful way and on a particularly bad day, he attempts to kill himself, an event that is considered grievous enough by his college buddies that they all drop everything and come together to support their wounded friend.
In the mix are the Sarah (the unhappy lawyer with killer cooking skills – played by Aubrey Plaza), Isaac (the successful one – Max Minghella), Isaac’s new girlfriend Kate (Jane Levy), Siri and Ben (the apparently happy artist couple – Maggie Grace and Nate Parker) and Josh (the always angry at something – Max Greenfield). As expected, we quickly learn that these individuals bring with them not only the baggage of their current lives but also of their past together, of relationships that were or nearly were, romances that have fizzled out and others that may still ignite.
When it enters the talkie, around the couch/table/fire mode, About Alex treads familiar territory and the conversations feel like they cold be lifted from a thousand other movies. Where About Alex excels is in tackling Alex’s close brush with death. We never really find out what his motivation was but Zwick handles the attempted suicide with a frankness and even a touch of comedy that doesn’t feel out of place but rather completely sincere. There’s never a feeling the Zwick is pocking fun at an incredibly touchy topic but he makes some interesting observations on the way such a traumatic event affects a group of friends, even a group that was once tight knit and hasn’t really reconnected in years.
The cast does a great job of breathing new life into some tired characters and for the most part, they’re freshly energized. The only one I couldn’t manage to warm up to was Sarah but that likely has more to do with Aubrey Plaza who doesn’t bring anything new to the role. Sarah is the same quirky, slightly awkward character Plaza always plays, a character that was once charming but is starting to grate on my nerves. Among some solid performances, including Max Greenfield as the guy who hates everything on principle and brings most of the comedic relief with his frankness, the stand out here is Nate Parker who really shines as the writer struggling with writer’s block. There’s a sentimentality to the character that feels more authentic than the rest and I couldn’t help but wonder if Ben is a stand-in for Zwick; it may explain why the character feels so much more realized than the others.
It might look a bit stale on the surface but About Alex is charming and features some great performances that elevate it beyond the usual and familiar. A solid first effort.
About Alex opens theatrically and is available on VOD on Friday, August 8th.