Film Review: About Alex

This callow but pretentious reunion of college buddies would have better been kept a strictly private affair.

Don't blame Shakespeare, but "Ask for me tomorrow, and you will find me a grave man" is the tweet Alex (Jason Ritter) sends to his friends before attempting suicide. He survives, with a pair of slashed wrists on the slow mend, but that tweet causes his college circle of friends to rally around him in his country home, which is, luckily, large enough to capably house them all.

Concerned single lawyer Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) wants to see to it that Alex is never left alone, something the others all agree upon. There's the interracial couple Ben and Siri (Nate Parker and Maggie Grace), who are going through their own angst, with him suffering from severe writer's block and she tempted to take a job offer which could separate them—not to mention her possible pregnancy. Isaac (Max Minghella), whom Sarah has always secretly crushed on, raises eyebrows by bringing his new, very young girlfriend Kate (Jane Levy) along, like a plus-one to a party. And, as all such gatherings require one, there is the resident curmudgeon Josh (Max Greenfield, reprising his a-hole character from “New Girl,” albeit with an "intellectual" bent here), who is constantly rolling joints and snidely commenting on his former classmates' selling out for conventional success.

Call this one a particularly Little Chill, for their problems, to quote Casablanca, don't amount to much more than "a hill of beans." There may be a target audience somewhere of recent college grads who will enfold About Alex into their hearts, but the characters are so uniformly trite and whiny that it will take a surfeit of tolerance to make that happen. Director Jesse Zwick also wrote the screenplay, which is littered with fancy apercus like "The three stages to finding friends in college are desperation, panic and faith. You wind up at the same table, somehow, and real life begins." And that's exactly what happens in a climactic flashback, depicting the meeting of these friends, and the utter banality of this random happenstance somehow coalescing into a lasting group bond is groan-inducing.

In the middle of a crucial fight, Ben tells Siri that when she moved onto his dorm floor, "I felt like throwing away all my ideas of dumb luck and start invoking God, Fate and a bunch of other capitalized words. When good things happen, you want to imagine them as fated. When bad things happen, you curse the world as a cold and brutally random place." Such deep thoughts only make you reflect, "Maybe it's a good thing he's blocked as a writer." Even a parlor game isn't exempt from the windy verboseness, as when Josh cries over Sarah's suddenly changing the rules, "It goes against the underlying architecture of the game of laying cards and taking turns!"

Each character, of course, has their own none-too-deep-seated pathology. Sarah accuses Josh of ruining her romantically forever by continually sleeping with her when he can't get with lifelong obsession Siri. (It's all that bad man's fault, of course.) Poor widdle Josh never got over his father leaving his mom when he was twenty, you see. Even innocent newbie Kate worries that she's not smart enough for Isaac's friends. But she shouldn't worry—the very fact that the story places such emphasis on the heartache caused by the eternal, hoped-for approval of one's school friends gives the whole enterprise a whiff of jejune noxiousness. You just want to scream at them, "Move on!"

The performances pretty much fall in line with the shallow outlines of the characters portrayed—not a particularly good thing—although Levy has a winning freshness, reprising Jennifer Tilly's Big Chill dewy outsider. We never do find out the reason for Alex's suicide attempt (although it may have something to do with his attraction to Ben), and Ritter's open-faced, farm-boy persona is not exactly ideal for conveying deep personal anguish.

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