'Donald Cried': Film Review

Donald Cried Still  - H 2016
Courtesy of The Orchard
This uncomfortable comedy induces more cringes than laughs.

A Wall Street banker has an uncomfortable reunion with his emotionally arrested former best friend in Kris Avedisian's dark comedy.

If you’ve ever run into an old friend who you absolutely never wanted to see again, you’ll find much to relate to in Kris Avedisian’s indie comedy that perfectly captures the painful aspects of such an unfortunate encounter. Ironically, the film captures them too well. Viewers may find themselves as eager to get away from the titular character as his former buddy with whom he reunites. Donald Cries demonstrates that cringeworthy isn’t necessarily the same as funny.

The story begins with Wall Street banker Peter (Jesse Wakeman) returning to his rundown, suburban Rhode Island neighborhood for the first time in 20 years. The occasion is the recent death of his grandmother, with whom he was not exactly close. Upon arriving, he discovers to his horror that he left his wallet — which contained all his cash, credit cards and identification — on the bus. So when Peter spots Donald (writer/director Avedisian), his best friend from high school, walking into the next-door childhood home in which he still lives, he has little recourse but to ask for a loan.

The painfully geeky Donald, sporting a shaggy haircut and ugly aviator glasses, delightedly greets his old buddy and agrees to drive him wherever he needs to go. The resulting day they spend together features a slew of incredibly awkward moments. Donald brings Peter up to his bedroom, still decorated with the garishly immature artifacts of a teenager, including a signed photograph of his favorite porn star. “Do you still masturbate?” Donald excitedly asks his guest.

The two also visit the amusement arcade in which Donald works, where his employer proceeds to brutally mistreat him. They get roped into a game of football during which Donald seems to be working out past resentments by repeatedly tackling Peter to the ground. Peter goes to the nursing home to pick up his grandmother’s possessions, only to be nearly arrested because of a mix-up for which Donald is responsible. And they revisit their old teenage haunt, an abandoned train tunnel, in which Donald suddenly pulls out a gun. Finally, when Peter attempts to romantically connect with a teenage crush (Louisa Krause), now the real-estate agent handling his mother’s house, Donald reacts in deeply disturbed fashion.

The film succeeds in its presumed goal of keeping the viewer off-balance trying to figure out the dynamics of the relationship, with Donald acting in alternately hyper-friendly, passive-aggressive and fully hostile fashion. But little of it rings true, from the contrived plotting (does the financially savvy Peter really have no other recourse to procure funds?) to Donald’s exaggerated man-child aspects, which less resemble arrested development than the sort of comic grotesqueries that have become an indie movie staple. This feature was adapted from a previous short film, and it’s not difficult to see how the character would have been easier to take in a much smaller dose.

That’s not to say that Donald Cries doesn’t have some insightful moments. Peter’s inconsistent responses to Donald’s provocations — alternating between affection, indulgence, irritation and anger — have the ring of truth, suggesting an underlying guilt over having rejected his former friend so completely.

To his credit, Avedisian fully commits to his role, stressing Donald’s repellant qualities rather than trying to make him falsely endearing. Wakeman makes for an effective straight man, thankfully not overdoing his character’s boorish tendencies. But their efforts aren’t enough to make this squirm-inducing dark comedy any easier to sit through.

Production companies: Electric Chinoland, Rough House Pictures
Distributor: The Orchard
Cast: Jesse Wakeman, Kristopher Avedisian, Louisa Krause, Robby Morse Levy, Kate Fitzgerald
Director-screenwriter: Kris Avedisian
Producers: Kyle Martin, Sam Fleischner, Allison Carter
Executive producers: Matthew Anthony, Stephen Skoly, Sean Lamb, Kris Evedisian, Jesse Wakeman, Kyle Espeleta
Directors of photography: Sam Fleischner, Trevor Holden
Production designer: Kia Davis
Editor: Frank Heath
Costume designer: David Tabbert
Casting: Lisa Lobel

85 minutes