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Review: About Alex

August 8, 2014

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

About Alex Poster

“This is like one of those ’80s movies,” Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) says partway through About Alex, a modern attempt to copy the magic of Lawrence Kasdan’s definitive classic The Big Chill.  The movie opens today in limited release and video on demand, courtesy of levelFILM.

But despite some good performances, it’s hard to tell whether this unofficial remake of sorts is sincere or shameless.  I mean, on the one hand, first time writer and director Jesse Zwick seems sincere in his attempts to create a defining film for millennials about characters in their thirties who are feeling lost in their lives.

But on the other hand, About Alex seems too focused on merely copying its far superior counterpart, right down to the name of the depressed character whom the entire story centres around, even though this time he isn’t dead.  The film opens with Alex (Jason Ritter) attempting suicide, causing his former university friends to reunite for the weekend at his rural house after he gets out of the hospital, partially to keep an eye on him and also to reconnect and figure out where they broke apart.

This includes Sarah who is masking her own pain, and the sarcastic Josh (Max Greenfield) who makes no secret of his disdain for the way modern culture has changed their friendship, secretly longing for their more carefree university days.  Then there’s the struggling writer Ben (Nate Parker) and his wife Siri (Maggie Grace) who have issues of their own, and the financially successful Isaac (Max Minghella) and his much younger girlfriend Kate (Jane Levy).

This is a premise that has been done before, and while many good stories start off with the same setup, About Alex doesn’t seem concerned with having a particular edge, other than jumping ahead thirty years from when many of the better counterparts took place.  At times this gives the film a charming lived in feel, and there are a few moments that prompt genuine sympathy for these characters.  But this isn’t always enough, especially considering the fact that several of the supporting players feel shoehorned in, and the screenplay never really delves deep enough into the central theme of what actually drove the title character to attempt suicide.

The choice to include a brief flashback to their university days, where the actors play themselves despite not looking any younger, just seems like an awkward attempt to show why these somewhat mismatched people even became friends in the first place.  A scene where the characters dance around the living room seems overly obvious as a throwback to The Big Chill, just proving the point that the film is too focused on copying the success of that classic, despite criticizing its own characters for living in the past.

There are several good scenes here and some memorable exchanges of dialogue.  The film also boasts a trio of solid performances in Jason Ritter, Max Greenfield and Aubrey Plaza, who are given the most interesting characters, imbuing depth upon them through their naturalistic acting.  But everything else about this feels routine and like something we have seen done better, namely in The Big Chill.

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