Review: 'Big Chill'-Esque 'About Alex' Starring Aubrey Plaza, Max Greenfield, Max Minghella And More

About Alex
Every generation
needs a couple of reunion movies, and in “About Alex" we have
another one. First-time writer-director Jesse Zwick doesn’t so much
swing for the fences as attempt to dribble a single down the
baseline. This comedy-drama doesn’t reach any untold heights, but
with formula pictures like this, you can only hope the company is
pleasant. With this cast, those meager expectations are reached.

Jason Ritter is
Alex, who we greet just as he’s tweeting about his impending suicide
attempt. News of his ultimately failed attempt circulates, from one
phone call to another, before a troupe of handsome character actors
find themselves sequestered in Alex’s rustic cabin in the
countryside. It’s very much like “The Big Chill” in how these
character represent a specific generation, willingly ready to discuss
and dissect their own shortcomings. And then Alex returns home, and
he’s basically a ghost to these people, as they worry about their own
problems while treating him with kid gloves.

What’s frustrating
is that “About Alex” is about anyone but Alex. We like this
character because Ritter, after a sea of failed pilots and meager
indie films, remains adorable, a winsome loner who engenders as much
audience goodwill as a sad puppy. What we do know about Alex is that he truly loves his
buddies. He’s also hiding a secret, which results in a cruel third
act reveal that Zwick deploys like a buried, out-of-sight IED.

About Alex
This cast is better
than last minute twists, however. The picture is a lovely showcase
for Aubrey Plaza, who is Sarah, the film’s acknowledgement that,
unlike other groups of buddies, these people have been hooking up
repeatedly over the years. She has an easygoing chemistry with Alex,
suggesting an affair that ultimately went nowhere, but also jibes
with intellectual troublemaker Josh (Max Greenfield). But she still
carries a torch for bushy-eyebrowed Isaac (Max Minghella), who
instead has arrived at their getaway with a much younger date (Jane
). Plaza and Minghella should be the film’s freshest commodity,
he of the unlikely alpha male attraction, her of the unrequited,
moony-eyed sadness. Of course, that comes from familiarity, given
that Plaza and Minghella also starred in the reunion film “10

Alex’s best friend
appears to be Ben (Nate Parker), an unrealized writing prodigy who still struggles with his in-the-works novel while girlfriend Siri
(Maggie Grace) pursues academia. This is a typical subplot, though
it’s impossible to understate how Parker smolders in this role. He
seems like the only real grown-up amongst the men: Alex is boyish,
Isaac is a tone-deaf capitalist jerk, and Josh is a class-A dillweed
in tweed who can’t help but pontificate about how rotten the world
is. He doesn’t need to do much for his dialogue to hit. You do wish
there would be some acknowledgement that he’s playing the “black
friend” since these films all have one (Anthony Mackie played the
role in “10 Years”), but Parker himself seems like he’s in a
different, more powerful film. His dissatisfaction isn’t
self-pitying, but ultimately attractive: when he wears only a
tee-shirt, he reminds you of the confidence shown by Denzel Washington in
Carl Franklin‘s “Devil In A Blue Dress." At one point he gets
into a car, and you wish he’d keep driving.

About Alex
The conflict is
transparently manufactured, a disappointment considering the richness
of these actors and the good times they share. Too often it’s Josh
who is prodded into starting controversy as if this were live theater
and someone missed their cue (Greenfield, with his shit-eating grin,
is only happy to oblige). Levy, here playing a thankless role, gets
to make her mark as a merrymaker and steals her scenes as the young
person who surprisingly has her shit together much more clearly than
the rest of the film’s principals. Already these generations are
dividing and subdividing, and it feels as if Zwick’s insistence is
that millennial malaise, thankfully, has skipped a certain age group.

Zwick’s script has
grander points to make: at times each of these characters serve as a
mouthpiece for his own concerns about the encroaching presence of
technology on regular human intimacy. Facebook is referenced heavily
as an evil, a community that encourages narcissism and false
nostalgia. To hammer it home, Plaza even shares a line of dialogue
comparing their circumstance to “an ’80s movie.” These insights,
not given a solid counterpoint, feel crowbarred into the proceedings,
as if Zwick wouldn’t commit to either his message or his actors.
“About Alex” is about too much and too little, a sandbox for its
considerable cast, but ultimately just followes the reunion
rulebook. Expect another one of these in five years or so. [C]

This is a reprint of our review from the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.