Set image courtesy of my instagram.

My best friend and I are both major film buffs. We’ve been bonding over our mutual love of film for years so when she invited me to attend some films at Tribeca I was excited. I have never been before but, naturally, I’d heard of it. She sent a list of films and I chose About Alex because I love Aubrey Plaza and because I think Max Minghella is hot (sue me). She chose Palo Alto because she’s been a fan of James Franco since I’ve known her (though that is changing as of late). When I arrived, I don’t know what I was expecting exactly but I looked out at a dark seemingly closed community college wondering if I had arrived at the right place. I went to a McDonalds while waiting for my friend to come and had just finished stuffing my face full of fries when she called to say she was across the street. We met up and she took me around the corner, past the empty community college, towards a line of people. I had gone to the wrong spot and now we were too far back in the line to see the red carpet but we got a glimpse of one of the stars making his way up to it. He just walked down the line and around the corner apparently having taken either a cab or the subway.

When we finally arrived on the red carpet, it was just as lovely as I thought it should be and we were given voting cards to rate the film.

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 Image: blackfilm.com

 

The first film we saw was About Alex. The premise is one that we all know well: Friends who haven’t kept in touch must suddenly come together-unresolved issues and much needed closure permeate. In this film, the sparkplug is the attempted suicide of the titular character, Alex (played by Jason Ritter). In an effort to show support, the old college friends show up to his cabin in the woods to watch him. Each character brings their own baggage: Siri (played by Maggie Grace) and the group’s golden boy, Ben (Nate Parker), are worried about the fate of their relationship after Siri gets a job offer in California while Ben struggles with writer’s block; Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) has been in therapy due to her crippling anxiety and relationship issues; Josh (Max Greenfield) is one of those guys who’s intelligent and feels this gives him the right to say whatever he feels no matter how rude; Isaac (Max Minghella) is that one guy who “sold out” (Corporate America, man); Kate (Jane Levy) is his 21 year old girlfriend much to the envy of Sarah.

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Image: My instagram

 

The thing with About Alex is that it isn’t a bad film. . . but it isn’t exactly one I find compelling to write about. I enjoyed viewing the film which did a good job of being self aware of how predictable some of its plot devices were. It was aware of the fact that it was dealing with charted territory and that its audience might question some of its characters and plot points; for example, at one point one of the characters asks what’s going on and another answers, exasperated, “I don’t know. Everyone is hooking up with everyone.” The cast does a great job with what they’re given: Aubrey Plaza finally gets the chance to play someone who isn’t one step ahead of everyone and dripping with sarcasm; Max Greenfield, who steals the show, takes a character who would be insufferable in person and makes him funny and even vulnerable (though still an asshole); Nate Parker does a great job but for some reason felt a bit out of place to me. For some reason, I just felt that his talents would be put to better use with a meatier role in a film that more people would see. I’ve never found Maggie Grace particularly compelling and she isn’t given much to do; Max Minghella gets the short end of the stick with a character that’s largely defined by the fact that he sold out, got a corporate job, and has a younger girlfriend. His character is given a little side story with Aubrey’s character, Sarah, but it didn’t seem all that necessary to me as Sarah’s storyline with Josh is more interesting to watch. Poor Kate is pretty much the “younger girlfriend!” punchline for much of the film but is given a few opportunities to be seen as a real person which Levy handles nicely. Jason Ritter does a great job with Alex. Alex is that one guy we’ve all met who’s really eager to make friends and keep them but his desperation makes everyone around him uncomfortable. You can tell that Alex struggles in social situations because he just wants to have the same sense of camaraderie he sees with others but. . . he simply doesn’t understand the boundaries of such relationships. Jason Ritter does an incredible job of exhibiting such in just his body language alone without overdoing it. The style of the film is nothing to write home about, especially since there’s an unnecessary and cheesy flashback. The flashback is actually lead into by one of the characters staring at the group of friends with what is obviously nostalgia on his face and ended when the character snaps back into the present at the sound of his friends calling for a group picture. And it was just as saccharine as it sounds. Overall, the film is one of those that you find yourself watching when it comes on but that you don’t really feel the need to own and that’s how I’d recommend it to someone: don’t rush; wait until it airs on TV on a rainy day. You’ll enjoy it enough to watch it again (and to be glad that you did) but not enough to actively seek it out.


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Voting card.

Image: My instagram

The next film we saw was Palo Alto. This was shown at a different theater and we were able to watch the red carpet event. I didn’t get any really good shots as I had to hold my place in line to get in. Once we entered I saw the Sprouse twins who were there viewing a different film in the other theater. They were both very tall and very aware of the surprise on everyone’s faces. Anyway, about the film:

If you’ve read my Sofia Coppola love letter you know that I don’t mind a plotless film. I’m all about character study films. Give me emotion and a character to dissect and I’m happy as a clam. . . but not in this case. I knew that I was in for a film about white teenagers being aimless and annoying when one of the characters randomly drops an “n” bomb for no apparent reason and I was right. I will admit that I haven’t read the book of short stories this film is based on but I could tell that the stitching together of Franco’s work wasn’t exactly seamless. I kept getting the feeling that storylines and characters were being introduced, seemingly dropped and forgotten, and then randomly resurfacing. Then there were some plotlines that sort of meandered.  At other moments, I kept wondering what it was, exactly, that drew these characters to one another. Relationships seems to appear out of nowhere and to escalate just as quickly. Characters whose relationships I wasn’t entirely sold on in the first place make bizarre and entirely too soon proclamations of love. At one point one character says, “I thought I loved you but. . .” and one of my besties and I turned to each other in a state of utter confusion. At another proclamation of love my other best friend actually said out loud, “. . .what?!” None of the characters seem to have anything but a surface level understanding of one another which makes their need for each other very strange to watch.

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Director: Gia Coppola. This pic does it no justice but this suit was enviable.

Image: My instagram

Despite this, Nat Wolff steals the show as Fred, a little sociopath in the making and easily the most compelling character in the film if only because he doesn’t look so damn bored. Fred does things and it appears that even he doesn’t understand the catalyst behind his behavior. Fred and his on again off again girlfriend? lover? (It’s never really clear to me but apparently the two “love” each other) played by Zoe Levin are the only characters whose actions I kind of understand. Levin’s Emily is “the school slut!” character but Levin makes it clear that she’s more human than trope and you get the sense that beneath her promiscuity is a yearning for some kind of human contact.

I’ve never been exactly moved by Emma Roberts as an actress and she doesn’t exactly get a chance to really prove herself here. Her character, April, doesn’t really do anything except wander around harboring a crush on Teddy (played by Jack Kilmer. . . yes, Kilmer as in Val) who incidentally is wandering around harboring a crush on her. While these two wander around crushing on each other and not making moves (something that is alluded to have been going on for a very very long time before we meet these characters) April initiates an inappropriate and short lived relationship (but apparently they “loved” each other) while Teddy does community service for a DUI. The film has some relatable moments in it: April feeling overwhelmed by the mountain of work ahead of her and the pressure to figure out her future as she reaches graduation day; Fred’s inability to terminate a toxic friendship due to the length of said friendship; feeling as if everyone around you in high school isn’t interested in anything important. These relatable moments do not, unfortunately, make up for everything else. Though the style was a bit too reminiscent of The Virgin Suicides, Gia Coppola shows promise as a director,but the film could’ve been stitched together much better. More could’ve been done to make the character’s issues a little more substantial. Not to say that dealing with SATs, figuring out what you want to do after high school, or having a crush on someone is insubstantial but it sure looks like it when everyone looks perpetually bored and there’s no sense of any kind of urgency. Nothing ever really feels like something is at stake.

 

May 17, 2014

Comments

Thank you! I will only watch these films if bored out of my mind. I feel like your review will help me to understand them better when and if I do watch them.

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