“About Alex doesn’t penetrate as philosophically or as deeply as it potentially could, but after all, too deep and I’d be writing it off as a piece of pseudo-intellectual contrivance that speaks garbled, unclear philosophy rather than have character emphasis.”
About Alex is The Big Chill for the social networking age, as it updates the ideas and the narrative brought forth by that eighties film by incorporating new technology, new lingo, and a significantly younger cast of mostly unfamiliar faces. The film plays a great deal like 10 Years, a film about a ten-year high school reunion, minus the core idea of a reunion and with more emphasis on the idea of reconnecting and solidifying crumbling relationships. Its recipe is a modestly-successful one, one that would perfectly compliment the cinematic subgenre of mumblecore if it didn’t look so damn good in its presentation and sound so crisp and polished with its first-rate audio.
The film opens on a somber note as we watched the troubled soul Alex (Jason Ritter) moments before he attempts suicide by slitting his wrists in a bathtub. When word reaches out to Alex’s closest friends, who’ve been more like distant acquaintances after the completion of college, the gaggle of twentysomethings plan a simple getaway for Alex when he exits the hospital. The gaggle of friends are made up of surly and brutally honest Josh (Max Greenfield), the simple and conflict-avoiding Sarah (Aubrey Plaza), the failed writer Ben (Nate Parker), among other, quieter faces amongst the bunch. They sit back, drink their Sierra Nevada, and catch up, all while avoiding bringing up the core reason they’re there in the first place.
Your response to About Alex will largely depend on how keen you are on being the unseen character, sitting in and observing a room full of talkative twentysomethings as they gather around, bitch and moan, flip through vinyls, sip wine, drink beer, smoke marijuana, and directionlessly converse about where life has taken them. For me, if the dialog is believable and the characters interesting, I’ll rarely turn down that opportunity, and writer/director Jesse Zwick gets lucky that his cast of characters bring such personality to the table. If the film had Ritter and Plaza alone it would be good on the charm factor, but the fact we had people like Greenfield to the cast definitely makes it so the film is a-okay in the department of charismatic actors and characters.
Furthermore, About Alex feels like a play illustrating that bouts of post-college listlessness I constantly bring up when reviewing a film by the filmmaking workaholic Joe Swanberg, where articulating what exactly is on your mind is one of the most difficult things to do for people. You are battling emotions, subconscious feelings, and motives you yourself don’t understand, much less understand how to communicate with others, and Zwick understands that by writing characters as archetypes but having them slowly descend into people you may have met in high school or college. They are friends bound by what could’ve been an immense tragedy on their lives, even if they weren’t extremely close to Alex in his darkest days, but the fact they can gather for a weekend and let honest feelings prevail prove they’re in a healthier position in their relationships than most friends are.
About Alex doesn’t penetrate as philosophically or as deeply as it potentially could, but after all, too deep and I’d be writing it off as a piece of pseudo-intellectual contrivance that speaks garbled, unclear philosophy rather than have character emphasis. Zwick makes sure to avoid that by throwing in enough changes in scenery or character emotions to make sure one particular setting doesn’t get too tiring, and for a directorial debut, About Alex is quietly ambitious and simplistically satisfying.