Do a Shot: for each meta conversation
Take a Drink: during each conflict
Take a Drink: for every plot convenience
By: Matt Conway (Four Beers) –
Although this may surprise people, it seems like The Big Chill is one of the more influential films from the 80’s. Despite being received with mixed reactions and it having quite a few detractors, The Big Chill in a lot of ways is a big inspiration to a lot of indie films today. Its focus on characters in one set area and addressing their problems is very much the inspiration behind a lot of independent films, especially the mumblecore genre.
While some movies are inspired by it, About Alex is seemingly playing tribute to it. Taking almost the same exact premise and even with the film comparing itself to The Big Chill, this is by far the biggest example of Chill’s influence. Considering the cast full of underrated actors and the directorial debut of Jesse Zwick, son of the well-respected Edward Zwick, and it seemed like About Alex had the potential to be the next The Big Chill. Instead, About Alex is just another run of the mill indie drama.
About Alex follows a group of friends who reunite when one of their friends, Alex, tries to commit suicide.
As I mentioned, About Alex has quite an unappreciated cast, with much of the cast being involved in some great flicks previously. The standouts have to be Nate Parker and Max Greenfield. Parker is one of the most underrated actors in the business, and has natural born talent. He handles himself well in both the comedic and dramatic moments of the film. Then there is Greenfield, who shines in his role as the cynic Josh. He really disappears into the character and has most of the film’s better comedic moments.
The rest of the cast is also great. Talents like Aubrey Plaza, Jane Levy, Jason Ritter, and Max Minghella all do a very good job in their respective roles. The whole cast in general has very good chemistry together, with their depiction of friends feeling very realistic.
Aesthetically, the film is quite impressive. First time director Jesse Zwick teamed with cinematographer Andre Lascaris to get quite a few nice shots around this decrepit house and surrounding forest. Zwick in general does a solid job for his directorial debut from an aesthetics perspective, accompanying the good shots with great music and a laid-back style.
About Alex also has a few scenes that stand out. Due to the cast having great chemistry together, most of these characters are quite likable, leading to a few pleasant dramatic moments. A particular flashback near the end of the film especially stood out, and put a big smile on my face. However, it seems like these moments are mostly few and far between.
Jesse Zwick also writes the film, and the script is where most of this film’s issues arise. Part of an indie movie like this is the comedy, and considering its comedically talented cast, the humor in the film is lackluster. Zwick gives an effort at creating a lot of self-aware humor, but mostly failed to really hit the mark, with most of these jokes coming off as too clever for their own good, especially with the references to The Big Chill.
About Alex also tries hard to come off as new age, but that effort is a bit inconsistent. There are moments where characters criticize and talk about social media, but these moments are very underdeveloped. It seems like an idea that could have added to the film and given it more personality, yet just seems like an afterthought in the end.
From a story perspective, there is a lack of originality. There are a fair share of differences from The Big Chill, and even quite a few twists in the film. However, these twists are very slight and ultimately do not add much, with the story concluding exactly where anyone would think it would. Indie films like this need to put a bit more effort into the story, as a few more interesting ideas could really help them be more unique.
One of the bigger issues with About Alex is its failure to develop its emotional core. While there a handful of moments that work, most of the big dramatic moments just do not stick, especially as the film gets closer to its final act. In a drama that is centered around these type of emotional moments, the lack of emotion made me feel disconnected to the film.
The central problem, however, is the characters. Every single character in this movie is caricature, with these characters lacking any form of dimension. Like Max Greenfield’s character Josh, who is basically the generic cynical character who is secretly depressed with his life. These type of characters do not feel like real human beings, which is needed in a grounded drama like this.
About Alex makes a sincere effort to become the next Big Chill, but misses the mark due to its lack of good characters and generally weak screenplay. Hopefully Jesse Zwick’s next effort is more inspired, especially from the story department.