Jesse Zwick’s Feature Debut, ‘About Alex,’ Is a Bold Start to a Promising Career

A new director worth keeping an eye on

Jason Ritter in About Alex.

Jason Ritter in About Alex.

Borrowing shamelessly from Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 hit The Big Chill, writer-director Jesse Zwick’s debut feature, About Alex, gathers an ensemble of talented unknowns (some second-generation offspring of famous fathers) in a reunion necessitated this time not by a suicide and a funeral, but by an old chum (Jason Ritter, son of the late John Ritter, in the title role) who survives a suicide attempt and needs some tea and sympathy—or, as this group of 30-something cynics might put it, vodka and vitriol. Despite the efforts of a uniformly charismatic cast, the lack of originality dampens the good intentions considerably. I liked it anyway, and the intelligence and unhackneyed humor of the believable, unself-conscious screenplay by fledgling director Mr. Zwick (son of veteran director Edward Zwick) deserves special praise. It never hits a false note.

(3/4 stars)

Written and directed by: Jesse Zwick
Starring: Nate Parker, Jason Ritter and Maggie Grace
Running time: 96 min.

The film opens with smart, still youthful-looking, all-American Alex trying to end his own life in the bathtub and dropping his mobile phone into the bloody water. Who was he trying to call? Out of the woodwork come his estranged friends to find out. The dysfunctional gang of characters assembled here are seven old chums who entered the adult world after college as idealistic non-conformists and found disillusion everywhere. Suddenly and unexpectedly, they are drawn together by the only member of their coterie with the courage to admit failure and throw in the towel on his disappointing life. The discussions that result during the weekend, spiced by the intriguing sexual tensions from earlier days that linger in the form of unfulfilled longings, are familiar but charged with humor and insight. Once they’ve made their way to Alex’s remote house in the country, they eventually unravel with the aid of modest kitchen skills, amateurish crisis counseling, clumsy efforts to bolster their host’s embarrassment and misery, and a seemingly never-ending supply of liquor.

Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) insists the mentally compromised Alex cannot be left alone. Longtime couple Ben and Siri (Nate Parker and Maggie Grace) come close to breaking up. Good-looking academic Josh (Max Greenfield) thinks tough love is the only way to get to the bottom of Alex’s depression. Isaac (Max Minghella, son of the great director Anthony Minghella) brings along his 22-year-old girlfriend (Jane Levy) whose candor pries them all violently from their comfortable masquerades. Wine, risotto and marijuana take effect as jealousy, unrequited love, political differences and the disparate detours their lives have taken conspire to rupture relationships and bring out the worst in everybody. Some of the issues that plague them may never be resolved, but in the end seven people come to know each other better than they thought they did in the past. About Alex welcomes a new director worth keeping an eye on. I, for one, am anxious to see what he does next.