The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


About Alex

In the opening scene of About Alex, a young man (Jason Ritter) crawls into a bathtub and slits his wrists. The rest of the movie is about his old college friends reuniting to take care of him on the weekend he's released from the hospital after surviving that suicide attempt. They get high and, at one point, dance around the living room while playing an old record. Sound familiar? Yes, About Alex is a pseudo-remake of The Big Chill, except that in Lawrence Kasdan's 1983 classic, the instigating character (also named Alex) was successful in killing himself. The Big Chill, as wonderful as it is, largely speaks to a specific generation; young people today aren't likely to identify with it all that much. About Alex is for the new generation, and it is not without its own appeal.

Upon returning home, Alex is greeted by his old pals, each of whom has some kind of personal issue. Ben (Nate Parker) is a blocked writer experiencing marital problems with wife Siri (Maggie Grace). Isaac (Max Minghella) arrives with younger girlfriend Kate (Jane Levy), but is rocked to discover that Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) wasn't serious when she put him in the “friend zone” back in school, and may even continue to maintain feelings for him. Josh (Max Greenfield) has grown bitter and angry in general. His lack of understanding about Alex's desire to kill himself really sets that off. As the weekend stretches on, revelations are made, secrets are revealed, and lessons are learned.

There's nothing in About Alex that The Big Chill didn't do better, but if you can look past the similarities, the movie works on its own terms. This is largely due to the performances. Each member of the ensemble cast creates a vivid character. They all feel like people we might actually know, and that earns our investment in their personal mini-dramas. The standouts are Max Greenfield who, as he does so well on the TV show New Girl, excels playing the compulsive provocateur, and Nate Parker (Red Tails), who very meaningfully portrays a guy who is conflicted when he realizes that the life he thought he wanted isn't measuring up to his expectations. Aubrey Plaza, so funny on Parks & Recreation, delivers a more serious turn here, proving herself as adept at drama as she is at comedy.

Writer/director Jesse Zwick (son of thirtysomething creator Ed Zwick) creates relatable situations for his characters that mostly feel real. Sometimes movies of this sort get a little far-fetched, with everyone having major personal turmoil. About Alex keeps things smaller scale, to its benefit. The characters deal with marriage and job problems, living with regret, and the realization that, as life moves forward, even close friendships can get left in the rearview mirror. Zwick's dialogue is often spot-on in addressing these things. Even if not wholly original, the movie has a genuine quality that makes it enjoyable.

About Alex marks an impressive debut for Zwick. He clearly has an interest in telling human-centered stories that try to form an emotional connection with the audience. Aided by a terrific cast, he's made a film with something of value to say about the nature and importance of friendships. It's funny and honest.

( out of four)

About Alex is rated R for language and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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