About Alex
dir-scr Jesse Zwick
prd Adam Saunders
with Aubrey Plaza, Nate Parker, Max Minghella, Jason Ritter, Maggie Grace, Max Greenfield, Jane Levy, Adam Saunders, Rey Lucas
release US 8.Aug.14
14/US 1h36
About Alex
The big chill-out: Plaza and Ritter

parker minghella grace
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
About Alex With a style that echoes The Big Chill, this warm ensemble drama uses jagged wit to explore some very dark themes. In addition, the strong cast keeps things resonant even amid some rather over-egged plot points, and the script has some important things to say about the nature of friendship.

After their friend Alex (Ritter) attempts suicide, six 30-ish pals reunite for a weekend in Upstate New York to let him know they care. Alex's blocked-writer best pal Ben (Parker) is in crisis mode with long-time girlfriend Siri (Grace), who has just got a job in Los Angeles. The cynical Josh (Greenfield) and peacemaker Sarah (Plaza) arrive at the same time, struggling to be civil to each other. And Isaac (Minghella) brings his young new girlfriend Kate (Levy). No one has a clue what to do around Alex, or each other, after all these years.

Writer-director Zwick (son of Edward) nicely observes the old rhythms between characters who are cleverly defined without resorting to the usual stereotypes. This allows the actors to reveal all kinds of surprising details while creating genuinely funny and moving moments. Of course, there's rather a lot of regret and guilt in the air. So even if the overall plot is thin, the film is packed with terrific story threads and character arcs. Standouts are Plaza's subtle maneater, Greenfield's abrasive curmudgeon and Levy's feisty outsider. And Ritter has the most emotionally punchy role, even if the script lets Alex off too easily.

Oddly, the suicide theme feels a bit simplistic even as the film keeps the issue central, complete with the accompanying guilt, pain and awkwardness. But then the script's tough conversations aren't all related to Alex, as this weekend brings back past feelings with a vengeance, sharply digging up romantic messiness, rivalries, clashes and running jokes. Thankfully, the realistic, dry humour and quietly submerged emotions let Zwick make some gently striking observations about how people grow individually within lingering friendships.

Meanwhile, the running commentary on social media is a bit on-the-nose, and the whole "he likes her but she likes him" set-up is more than a little soapy. And the inclusion of noisy sex, pot-smoking, dancing, game-playing and revelations makes everything feel familiar and comfortable. So ultimately, the film is more engaging than challenging, revealing its immaturity when someone asks, "What happened to us?" Another answers, "We got serious," as if they're all grown up now.

cert 15 themes, language, some drugs 8.Sep.14

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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall