Saturday, October 11, 2014

About Alex

One day I'll get around to writing a long essay about my ongoing love/hate relationship with The Big Chill, but for now, I'll encapsulate it like so: I keep wanting it to tell me something, I keep wanting it to reveal something, I have this sense that it should and it just never does.  So, when I heard that About Alex was being billed as essentially a rethinking of The Big Chill for my own generation, I was on board.  I'm drawn to a zeitgeisty ensemble movies, even thought they're nearly all doomed to fail miserably.  They try to capture so much, to speak to so many, and as a result: they're prematurely afflicted with this bloated sense of self-importance and responsibility. About Alex is a movie truly of that ilk. It has one foot in mid-eighties nostalgia and another firmly in the present moment, and because of that it becomes a sort of hipster paradox: it gets nothing right even as it gets absolutely everything right.

This is writer/director Jesse Zwick's debut, and as such, it's an ambitious endeavor. Zwick has gathered a host of familiar primetime faces for his quarter-life crisis.  Notably, Aubrey Plaza ("Parks and Recreation") and Max Greenfield ("New Girl") step up as the most embittered within a group of estranged college friends forced back together after the attempted suicide of one of their own.  Alex's (Jason Ritter) attempt is clearly a cry for help, and as he enthusiastically invites his cohort into his mess of a home, forgotten joys and past skeletons surface with predictable regularity.
There's nothing especially new about About Alex.  Many of its most dramatic turns feel ripped from an undergraduate creative writing course and forced to hold more weight than they deserve.  Though the contrivances keep coming, the ensemble cast holds it together and their moments are dispersed with some degree of deftness. This, perhaps, combined with the current landscape's lack of small, quiet, conversational dramedies, allows the film to read as somehow refreshing even when it's a bit shallow.  Of course, the film's relative shallowness is ultimately one of the ways in which it gets things exactly right.  These are characters that speak to a type of privilege that they don't seem to recognize, and which is endemic (if we're being honest) to my generation.  Even when they have things good, they can't recognize it and don't seem to understand the ways their personal failures are not new, are just repeated. What's unclear?  Whether the film is actually aware of that as a theme. 

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