'Alex of Venice': SIFF Review
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the over-extended heroine of Chris Messina's directing debut.
SEATTLE — Mary Elizabeth Winstead gets a well-deserved showcase in Alex of Venice, Chris Messina's character study about a woman facing her failure to juggle career, marriage and motherhood. Messina's debut as a director, the film is too modestly scaled to hold much commercial promise, but its low-key sense of place and strongly felt performances should earn it respect on the fest circuit.
Winstead's title character, a workaholic lawyer for an eco-advocacy group, doesn't realize the extent to which she takes stay-at-home husband George (Messina) for granted until, after losing his temper in an embarrassing exchange with his father-in-law (Don Johnson), he declares "I can't be your housewife any more" and moves out.
Suddenly in charge of everything from fixing her ten year-old's lunches to making sure Dad takes his myriad medications on schedule, Alex flounders. Help seems to arrive in the form of her sister Lily (Katie Nehra), who shoulders many household chores while reminding Alex that impending divorce needn't mean she never has sex again. But as we see when Lily inadvertently derails one promising romantic encounter, the rootless sibling is much better at stirring things up than at taking responsibility for the results.
The hookup Alex does finally get offers not only gratification but (whether she understands or not) a test of her tendency to prioritize work over personal life: The man she hits it off with in a bar (Derek Luke) is the very property developer whose enormous spa project Alex's organization has been fighting in court.
Luke makes a seductive embodiment of the moral gray zone Alex's strident colleagues refuse to acknowledge, but the most compelling subplot here involves Alex's father: Roger, an actor whose career has waned, gets a part in a stage production of The Cherry Orchard but is losing his ability to learn lines. Johnson is heartbreaking in a scene where his increasing confusion becomes impossible to hide from the rest of the play's cast.
Winstead, on the other hand, keeps her character's crisis internal, registering no more visible angst than one would expect from a woman who's realizing she may not be able to count on anyone but herself. As she flails through a few dubious choices, the character may be on the kind of self-discovery path we've seen in countless other films; but Winstead makes the outcome seem far from preordained.
Production company: Electric City Entertainment
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Messina, Don Johnson, Skylar Gaertner, Derek Luke, Timm Sharp, Katie Nehra, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Director: Chris Messina
Screenwriters: Jessica Goldberg, Katie Nehra, Justin Shilton
Producer: Jamie Patricof
Executive producers: Samantha Housman, Louise Runge
Director of photography: Doug Emmett
Production designer: Linda Sena
Costume designer: Courtney Hoffman
Editor: Amy McGrath
Music: David Wingo
No rating, 86 minutes