A failed suicide attempt leads to a reunion of old friends in About Alex, a quietly intense little film about life, love and the false intimacy created by modern telecommunications.
About Alex opens with a faceless man in a suit riffling through books until he finds a magazine clipping – which he puts in his jacket’s inside pocket. He steps into a warm bath, fully clothed and sends someone a text reading, ‘If you see me tomorrow I shall be a grave man.’
Cut to a montage of several different people in different locations getting a phone call and putting everything else aside, then arriving at a rather poorly kept house in the middle of nowhere.
In rapid succession we meet Ben (Nate Parker, Non-Stop) and Siri (Maggie Grace, Taken, Lockout), Sarah (Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation, The To Do List), Josh (Max Greenfield, New Girl), Isaac (Max Minghella, The Mindy Project, The Ides of March) and Kate (Jane Levy, Evil Dead, Suburgatory).
Ben is a struggling writer, Siri has a dream job offer that might pull them apart; Josh is a curmudgeonly truth-teller who is too old for his years; Sarah is the one who got the group back together as a kind of support/suicide watch; Isaac is a business mogul of some sort, who has brought his much younger girlfriend, Kate, with him. Alex (Jason Ritter) is the would-be suicide.
Essentially, the group spends the weekend at Alex’s house – reliving their glorious (or not so) college days; keeping an eye on Alex until he’s ready to explode, and generally getting drunk and/or high and making Kate feel incredibly out of place.
Writer/director Jesse Zwick is only the latest auteur to try to mine the idea that though we can Facebook and tweet and email and text, these communications media only provide a false sense of intimacy and, in reality, we have no idea what’s really going on with the people with whom we stay in contact via them.
About Alex has been called ‘a Big Chill for millennials,’ but really, it’s more like a little chill. Revelations and seeming betrayals seem to come at expected intervals; we learn a bit more about each character than they do, and, of course, Kate turns out to be very impressive – and Isaac is smart enough to recognize that he’s lucky as hell to be with her.
What lifts About Alex above a lot of pretenders to The Big Chill’s emo throne is the cast – most of whom we are familiar with through television. The comfort level that provides gives Zwick’s decent script a terrific boost – and the fact that they all have terrific chemistry (however awkward it might be) is also a factor.
Plaza and Levy are especially good – Sarah and Kate make each other feel hugely inadequate and there’s a very brief but terrific scene where they go shopping for groceries that really emphasizes that.
While the whole cast (yes, even Maggie Grace) steps it up here, Greenfield – who plays Josh as though he were M. Emmett Walsh – somewhat surly, peevish and far too curmudgeonly for a man in his early thirties, is fun to watch in the same way that Walsh was.
Zwick deserves credit for even trying to pull off this kind of movie and even more for not making a supreme botch of it. He neither lets things get too maudlin nor lets the film drop beneath an effective pace. He may not be saying anything particularly new, but he has a cast that keeps it from feeling old hat.
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