TMN Movie Review: "About Alex"

Photo Credit: Screen Media Films

Rating: R
Length: 96 minutes
Release Date: August 8, 2014
Directed by: Jesse Zwick
Genre: Drama

"About Alex" deals with some heavy subject material such as death and suicide, but it's a story about friends at its core. After the movie's titular character makes an attempt to end his own life, his old college friends gather around him. The reunion takes place over a weekend and is packed with drama as the feelings and problems the characters have with one other come into light.

The opening scene of "About Alex" makes it clear right off the bat that this isn't a typical feel-good indie film. A young man named Alex adjusts his tie and tucks a page from a magazine into the pocket of his sleek suit. He posts a cryptic line from "Romeo & Juliet" to his Twitter account but doesn't call anyone or leave a note explaining why he's leaving the world of his own accord. As soon as he begins his suicide attempt, the scene ends and another begins: Alex's old friends from college hear that he's in the hospital. He's still alive, but they know they need to be there for him as he physically and mentally recovers.

The mismatched group of young people travels to upstate New York to be at his side over a weekend. Before long, things come to light that had been buried. Romance, relationships, rivalries and more abound as rocky friendships struggle to make it for Alex's sake. They feel guilty for not being there for him, for not staying in touch and for not noticing the warning signs that their friend was in the midst of a downward spiral. This guilt drives the group of friends to do their best to put their past issues aside, which might be the only way they can ever become close again.

The characters are similar to those typical of indie movies. There's a cynical intellectual, a girl who's optimistic in spite of having poor self-esteem, an overtly affectionate couple who makes everyone else feel like a third wheel and so on. However, thanks to the skills brought by the film's unusually talented cast, the characters do not come off as formulaic and are fleshed out to a surprising extent. Most indie films are full of unknown faces, but that's not the case with "About Alex." Jason Ritter of "Parenthood" fame portrays Alex himself. Maggie Grace, best known for her role in "Taken," is Siri, whose name leads to plenty of iPhone jokes. Max Greenfield from "New Girl" and Aubrey Plaza from "Parks and Reaction" are two more recognizable actors, as well as Jane Levy and Max Minghella from "Suburgatory" and "The Mindy Project" respectively.

If it weren't for its up-and-coming cast, "About Alex" might have gone relatively unnoticed in the sea of new indie films, which would have been a shame — there aren't many movies that deal with matters like suicide and depression as truthfully and optimistically as "About Alex" does. Fortunately, the familiar faces are sure to bring in viewers who may not have otherwise been interested in this unique movie.

"About Alex" is the first movie Jesse Zwick both wrote and directed, but his lack of experience doesn't show. Even Alex's suicide attempt is done tastefully. Zwick has an excellent grasp of how much he should show the audience and how much he should imply instead, resulting in a surprisingly artful film. The cinematography and setting of "About Alex" support Zwick's understated style, giving viewers plenty of space to fall in love with the characters.

"About Alex" is very much like other indie films as far as its tone is concerned. It feels realistic, almost like a documentary in some ways, and the love the cast and crew have for its story is apparent in every carefully crafted scene. Zwick certainly has a promising career ahead of him if "About Alex" is any indication of his abilities as a director and writer. His talent is undeniable, even for viewers who don't usually enjoy indie films. It's not as polished as most modern movies, but its rawness is part of its appeal.

Even though "About Alex" deals with some dark themes, the overall tone of the film is optimistic and becomes more upbeat as the story progresses. The seven friends do have their struggles, but they learn how to move past their differences thanks to the love they have for Alex. By the end of the film, every character has a new lease on life and comes away a better person, leaving Alex with a hope he thought he'd lost.