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NEW YORK — A crisis-reunion film that accepts its unoriginality and even takes some pleasure in acknowledging it, Jesse Zwick‘s About Alex gathers together a half-dozen thirtyish schoolmates for some bonding after one of them, Jason Ritter‘s title character, tries to kill himself. Unambitious but amiable, it benefits from the presence of familiar talents, many of whom have enough name-recognition value from series TV to increase chances reaching a non-fest audience.
In a film that makes some half-hearted stabs as a critique of social-media addiction — most via the group’s resident fuddy-duddy Josh, an academic played overbearingly by Max Greenfield — the action starts with a tweet that’s mildly hard to believe: Instead of leaving a note, Adam gets in his warm bath fully dressed, prepares his straight razor and sends out a cryptic quote from Romeo and Juliet instead of a goodbye.
Word of the attempt spreads, though, the old-fashioned way, as old pals from the dorm phone each other anxiously. While Alex recuperates in the hospital, they make their way from New York and elsewhere to his big house upstate, ready to comfort him and, as Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) insists, make sure he’s never alone long enough to hurt himself again.
Seeds of non-suicide drama are planted on cue: Longtime couple Ben and Siri (Nate Parker and Maggie Grace) may be tugged apart by a hard-to-reject job offer that would require her to move; Sarah is threatened by the 22-year-old girlfriend (Jane Levy) that Isaac (Max Minghella) unexpectedly brought for the weekend; and Josh is as judgmental of his selling-out friends as he is envious of their achievements and attachments. But nothing prevents the chums from enjoying each other’s company in all the usual ways: good-natured teasing, rifling through old records, hugs and joints and “I always wanted you to make a move on me” surprise confessions.
Right about the time someone asks “what happened to us?” and the response is “we got serious,” another character just up and admits what was hinted earlier with a Jeff Goldblum reference. “This is like one of those ’80s movies,” she declares, referring of course to The Big Chill and its ilk. But if she spent much time at today’s film festivals, she might have said, “It’s like one of those many indies where actors who seem a little bit young for this sort of thing enact a story that’s just like one of those ’80s movies.”
There’s nothing new under the sun, but About Alex is very, very not new. Luckily, most of its capable cast muster the warmth we require, and Zwick’s script offers more humor (however mild the laughs are) than sentimentality. At least he doesn’t try to do for the music of this generation’s college years what The Big Chill did for Motown. Other filmmakers have tried that trick recently, and it’s one Zwick wisely decided not to repeat.
Production: Footprint Features, Bedford Falls Company
Cast: Nate Parker, Jason Ritter, Maggie Grace, Max Greenfield, Aubrey Plaza, Max Minghella, Jane Levy
Director-screenwriter: Jesse Zwick
Producer: Adam Saunders
Executive producers: Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz
Director of photography: Andre Lascaris
Production designer: Alex Brook Lynn
Costume designer: Anney Perrine
Editor: Garret Price
Music: Joel P. West
Not rated, 98 minutes
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