About Alex (R)

Drama 96 min. August 8, 2014
By Abby Garnett
Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill had much to say about the angst of losing touch with your younger self and the noble folly of trying to reclaim it. Since its release in 1983, the dramatic tropes of Kasdan's film — big, nostalgic musical cues and characters smoking pot and dancing goofily — have become as familiar as its central depiction of mid-30s malaise. All of those elements resurface in About Alex, a lightweight Big Chill reworked for today's young professional set, which proves too clumsy and self-conscious to do justice to its weighty subject matter. Writer-director Jesse Zwick makes a few changes to the formula. The ensemble is whittled from eight to a slightly more manageable seven, though it's still cobbled from a hodgepodge of types, including a writer (Nate Parker), a high-powered businessman (Max Minghella) and a sensitive but driven career woman (Maggie Grace.) This time it's a suicide attempt, not a funeral, that brings the friends back together: Alex (Jason Ritter) is alive to endure the attentions of his concerned buddies, and to witness all the resentments that get lobbed around over the course of the weekend.

Zwick's screenplay probes the stress of up-and-comers acquiring the markers of success: partner, house, career, baby. When Minghella's Isaac arrives with his much-younger girlfriend (Jane Levy), Sarah (Aubrey Plaza), a neurotic lawyer, crumples into a jealous, needy mess — though luckily for the rest of them, she relaxes by cooking elaborate meals.

But dramas about relationships are built on details, and too often the ones in About Alex feel like elements of a screenplay rather than specifics from real life.
Jesse Zwick Maggie Grace, Aubrey Plaza, Jane Levy, Max Greenfield, Jason Ritter, Max Minghella, Nate Parker Jesse Zwick Screen Media Ventures

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