For Jesse Zwick’s first feature film, he gathered together an ensemble of sitcom actors to tell a hilarious and heartfelt story about friendship (and social media). In About Alex, six somewhat estranged college friends (and a plus one) gather together for a weekend to “celebrate” the attempted suicide of their friend. Over the weekend, secrets and unrequited passions rear their ugly heads but push these great friends back together.
Ben (Nate Parker) is suffering from writer’s block and avoiding the calls of his best friend Alex (Jason Ritter). His longtime relationship with Siri (Maggie Grace) gets rocky when she announces an acceptance to a fellowship on the other side of the country. What she doesn’t announce to him is that she may be pregnant. She saves that bombshell for wannabe chef Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) who has her own worries over seeing her big crush, stylish, corporate almost-douche Isaac (Max Minghella) with his new—much younger—girlfriend, Kate (Jane Levy). Luckily, her haphazard friend with benefits, intellectual Josh (Max Greenfield) is there as well.
They’ve all gathered to give support to their friend Alex, whose attempted suicide shocks them into rekindling their fading friendships. Now in their late twenties, they’ve drifted apart from each other, as close college friends tend to do over time. Zwick (who also wrote the film) uses this situation to explore all the emotions that arise—both volatile and loving—when friends examine where their lives have ended up (and how to proceed in their futures).
With an odd number of people isolated in a house, it’s easy to assume that some couples will be rearranging. Josh notes this early on in the film (just one of the many meta moments sprinkled throughout), including the fact that there’s an odd man out. Fortunately, a stray dog appears, allowing whoever ends up alone a companion of sorts. However, Zwick avoids the cliché romantic comedy traps—well, most of them—that the story could easily fall into.
About Alex also taps into this generation’s love of social media and pop culture references, both embracing and rejecting such concepts. Alex’s final cry for help is a cryptic tweet, Sarah loves taking pictures of everyone to post on Facebook/Instagram, Isaac’s attached to his work blackberry, and Josh can’t help but make a crack about Siri and the iPhone. In fact, it’s Josh who is most critical of all. He simultaneously despises social media—endlessly lecturing everyone about their use of it—and is studying social media’s affect on the future of biography for his dissertation. Between Josh’s condemnations (of just about everything) and Sarah’s endless analyzing, most of the dialogue is an endless stream of psychobabble offset only by the inevitable soul baring you expect from a weekend of this magnitude.
No matter how much (or little) the script veers into the tedious or cliché, the strength and success of About Alex lies with the cast. The chemistry between the entire cast is a unique blend of platonic and romantic. Their interactions feel as though they truly have known each other for a decade. And you don’t even need to ship any particular couple because you’ll be happy no matter who ends up (or stays with) whom. Even outsider Kate assimilates into the group easily, never becoming the awkward seventh wheel that she fears she’ll be. The core friendship between Alex and Ben has so many implied layers you’re never quite sure if Alex has any romantic feelings towards Ben or not—a kind of friendship that’s so rarely explored in film. But all you really want is for all of them to live together (think: A Home at the End of the World). Actually, what you will really want from them is for the actors to all quit their respective TV shows and star in their own sitcom together.
About Alex is a wildly engaging film that resonates most with the mid-to-late twenties crowd. Every generation has a film that defines them, and while Josh would hate to even think about it, About Alex is definitely one for this generation. If you’re at the Tribeca Film Festival, this is one film you can’t miss.