Movie Review: “About Alex”

about“This is like one of those ’80s movies,” wide-eyed Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) observes at one point in the later scenes of “About Alex.”
Yes, it is. More like “that ’80s movie” — singular. “About Alex” is “The Big Chill” — the one about a group of college friends who reunite, in their early 30s, at the big house in the country where one of them lived and just killed himself.
In “About Alex,” not-as-old college friends gather in the big house in the country where one of their number just tried to kill himself. While it’s entirely possible that these late twentysomethings would have run across 1983’s “The Big Chill” somewhere — Jeff Goldblum’s hipster appeal has never been greater — it’s far more likely that the writer-director son of Oscar winner Ed Zwick just figured he could get away with a knock-off, as long as he had a character joke about it.
Everybody had lost touch with Alex (Jason Ritter, the son of John Ritter), dodging his emails, text messages, etc. He was kind of needy. So he writes a poetic final note, paraphrasing Shakespeare.
“Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.”
And then slashed his wrists. Newspaper copy editor and would-be novelist Ben (Nate Parker of “The Great Debaters”) and his girlfriend Siri (Maggie Grace), mouthy academic Josh (Max Greenfield), mergers attorney Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) and hedge fund success Isaac (Max Minghella, son of Oscar winning director Anthony Minghella) flock to his side. Or his house.
They haven’t had the time to clean up the bloody bathroom when Alex sashays back in, grinning, dropped off by a taxi. He’s the best-adjusted recent suicide survivor in the history of film.
Everybody in this group has history, everybody has issues and a lot of those issues have to do with crushes, love affairs, and the like. Alex is sort of peripheral to all that as that old gang from college sort through the messiness of their lingering connections.
“What happened to us?” they ask. “We got serious,” they answer.
Josh makes deep observations about “our parents’ music” (Springsteen) vs. “our music” (Arcade Fire), how people aren’t “close” any more thanks to social media, and how nobody goes deep into thought about relationships, events and their lives — “they just relate them to” this movie (“Wedding Crashers”) or that sitcom (“Friends”).
It’s all so shallow it’s tempting to dismiss this as “Nepotism: The Movie,” with all the Hollywood offspring, on camera and off. Really, Jesse Zwick, if the best idea you can script is a scene where the guys are in a group and all they can think to say is “What do you think the girls are doing?”, it’s time to suck it up and ask daddy for tips.
“About Alex” eventually finds some third act drama amid a sea of glib banalities. Plaza, of TV’s “Parks and Recreation,” is still over-reliant on eye-rolling as her go-to acting move. But Greenfield, Parker and Jane Levy, playing Isaac’s too-young/suicide hot line operator girlfriend (yeah, really) give decent performances.
As “Big Chill” knockoffs go, the world has seen worse. Someday, when future hipsters dig deep into the filmography of the guy we’ll be calling “The New Jeff Goldblum” (Greenfield), maybe they’ll stumble across “About Alex.” And wonder what ’80s movie the eye-roller is comparing this to.
MPAA Rating: R for language and drug use
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Nate Parker, Maggie Grace, Max Minghella, Jason Ritter, Jane Levy, Max Greenfield
Credits: Written and directed by Jesse Zwick. A Screen Media release.
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