About Alex Jesse Zwick

About Alex Jesse Zwick
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Is it mere coincidence that About Alex is being released on the heels of Criterion's new edition of The Big Chill on Blu-Ray? Bearing roughly the same premise as Lawrence Kasdan's 1983 film about a group of friends coming to terms with the suicide of one of its own, writer-director Jesse Zwick has assembled a talented enough cast but then sets them adrift in a rudderless melodrama.

Whereas Kevin Costner was famously cut out of The Big Chill as the deceased, Jason Ritter's failed actor Alex escapes the same fate here by surviving his attempt at slashing his wrists. The circle of friends he made in college reunites for the weekend at his remote house in the country to ostensibly provide moral support, but it inevitably leads to rivalries being renewed and romances being rekindled.

Ben (Nate Parker) is a promising writer who is having trouble following up on the success of an article he had published in The New Yorker and committing to Siri (Maggie Grace), the girlfriend he met in college. Attorney Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) can't help herself from hooking up with misanthropic scholar Josh (Max Greenfield), even as she's really always had a crush on Isaac (Max Minghella), the successful businessman who has brought his young girlfriend Kate (Jane Levy) along for the trip.

They talk. They eat and drink. They steer clear of the downstairs bathroom where Alex's blood is still pooled on the tiled floor. They smoke pot. They find a dog while on a walk in the woods. They listen to records like Arcade Fire instead of the Three Dog Night of Kasdan's film. They jab at each other in ways only the best of friends can and try to tear through all of the facades in the process.

The actors do what they can with a blatantly derivative script that, in trying to create a truly balanced ensemble, leaves them all somehow short-changed. It's never quite as funny or perceptive as one would hope in its attempts at either, but the film ambles along good-naturedly, for the most part. Only near the end when it manufactures a couple of plot contrivances to generate conflict and provide a tidy conclusion does it truly ring false.

Zwick is the son of director Edward Zwick (Glory, Courage Under Fire) and this is a low-key debut that, in its use of one primary location and a core group of actors, feels like an attempt to create the ideal training ground behind the camera. Now that he's played it safe by learning in the shallow end of the pool, perhaps Zwick will be ready next time to jump into the deep end.

(Screen Media Films)