Thursday, August 14, 2014
First-time director Jesse Zwick (son of Ed) aims for an updated "Big Chill" with "About Alex," in which a hexad of college friends convene at the home of Alex (Jason Ritter, son of John) after he attempts suicide in the movie's opening sequence.
The group includes Siri (Maggie Grace), a scholar who's just won a coveted fellowship that would entail moving to California. That doesn't thrill her husband Ben (Nate Parker), a blocked writer a year behind on his new book. There's Sarah (Aubrey Plaza), who sublimates her passion for cooking as a tax attorney (the unstated premise being that nobody could actually enjoy practicing tax law) and her occasional fuckbuddy Josh (Max Greenfield), a cynical academic in whose insipid critiques of social media Zwick nods to modernity. Finally, meet Sarah's ex-flame Isaac (Max Minghella, son of Anthony - completing the nepotism triangle), a financier on whose Italian shoes the others dwell inordinately. He's brought along his new GF Kate (Jane Levy), who's supposedly much too young for him but looks about the same age as everyone else.
The diamond in the rough here is Nate Parker. He had a small but pivotal role in the inane Liam Neeson hijack thriller "Non-Stop." Here, he gives a master class in maturity and quiet power that makes those around him seem undergraduate at best. I realize now that I didn't give Plaza enough credit for last year's terrific "The To Do List." Sarah, with her endless eye rolls, isn't nearly as rich a character, but Plaza does have a distinctive presence, though as a brunette she'll have to work harder to make herself pretty enough for major studio pictures. Grace also brings some subtlety to her unfortunately named Siri, and Levy has one nice scene, in which Jane, the clear outsider in this circle of friends, allows herself to get drunk and let loose. The rest of the men fare much less well. Minghella lacks big-screen presence; he seems more suited for a YA TV series. Greenfield's presence is fairly loathsome; you'll want to slug him not for anything Josh says or does but for his entire general demeanor. And Ritter, as the motivating force behind this big weekend, gets really short shrift. He's sweet and self-effacing, but sort of falls by the wayside. The movie's not about Alex - or much of anything else - after all.