The new film About Alex has been described as this generation’s version of the 1983 hit The Big Chill. It’s also similar in tone and subject matter to 1985’s St. Elmo’s Fire. The plot begins with the title character attempting suicide. This drastic cry for help results in a group of his friends gathering together in a show of support and concern. The seven twentysomethings then proceed to spend a long weekend reminiscing about the past, smoking weed, listening to music, having sex, and coming to grips with how much they’ve all changed since leaving university.
About Alex is the first feature by director/writer Jesse Zwick whose father, Edward served as one of the producers of the 1987-91 TV show thirtysomething.
The film stars an array of talented young actors including Max Mingella (whose late father Anthony won an Oscar for the film The English Patient) and Jason Ritter, son of late comic actor John Ritter. Other members of the cast include popular sitcom stars Max Greenfield of New Girl and Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation.
Ritter stars as the suicidal title character whose emotional crisis serves as the catalyst which brings together his old college friends. Greenfeld portrays Josh, a cynical PhD student who seems to have mastered the art of pissing people off. At one point in the film he even makes the comments that, “being an asshole comes in handy.” His character is responsible for most of the film’s best lines. After rejecting Bruce Springsteen’s music, for example, he quips, “Never trust anyone who’s that passionate about the state of New Jersey”. He also dismisses the band Arcade Fire because they’re “too Canadian.”
Not only does About Alex draw upon The Big Chill for inspiration but the 2014 film also includes several references to that classic reunion flick scattered throughout the script. During an early scene, for example, Aubrey Plaza’s character Sarah mentions ‘that ‘80s movie about a group of friends’ and later on when the group are trying to come up with a name for a dog, Sarah insists that the canine be called Jeff Goldblum (one of the actors who starred in The Big Chill). It’s also interesting to note that despite being set in the present the only music the friends seem to listen to is in the form of LP records which could be interpreted as a nostalgic throwback to the ‘60s or ‘70s.
One of the major questions left unanswered in About Alex is why the title character tried to kill himself in the first place. At one point he mentions needing too much from his friends but that’s pretty much all the explanation we get. Also, we’re left to ponder why, if his friends really cared so much about him, did no one go straight to the hospital once they heard what he had done? Instead they let him come home in a cab.
Unfortunately most of the emotional and relationship issues addressed in the film seem rather trite and hollow. None of the characters are especially appealing but come off as tired stereotypes. Josh is a jaded academic who is writing a thesis that even he admits no one will read. Isaac, although being the most financially successful of the group, is perceived by his old friends as selling out. Alex is a troubled slacker whose struggling to find his way in the world. Ben is a frustrated writer struggling to finish his book and Sarah works for a law firm but secretly yearns to be a chef.
About Alex is disappointing because given the strong cast it seems as if the film could’ve been a lot more relevant and insightful. There’s no doubt, however, that the young cast as well as filmmaker Jesse Zwick are talented and have a promising future.
About Alex opens August 8.