“You know what this is like?” asks Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) in the new dramedy “About Alex.” “It’s like one of those 80s movies with a big group of people.”
Bang on Sarah. In fact, it’s exactly like ”The Big Chill” with new names and faces.
The movie begins with the title character Alex (Jason Ritter) soaking in a tub, texting a Romeo & Juliet quote– “ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”—to his friends before taking a razor blade to his wrists. The news of his suicide attempt quickly spread to his closest, although mostly estranged, friends from college.
Coming together in an upstate New York house to support and comfort their old friend each brings with them their own issues.
Sarah is insecure, stuck living in the past. Ben and Siri (Nate Parker and Maggie Grace) have been together for years, but may be torn apart by job opportunities on opposite coasts, while Isaac’s (Max Minghella) young girlfriend Kate (Jane Levy) is an unwelcome newcomer in this group while Josh’s (Max Greenfield) abrasiveness is the sand in the Vaseline that opens old wounds.
“About Alex” leans heavily on “The Big Chill” and similar college-reunion movies for its basic structure, but ups the navel-gazing quotient. These aren’t the self-obsessed Boomers of yesteryear, they’re the self-reflective Millennials of today. Faced with uncertain futures and an unsettled present. Not too different from their cinematic predecessors, but their reactions to their situation isn’t formed by the turbulent 1960s or the Vietnam War but by social media filtered through a quarter-life crisis.
Much of cultural the substance of “After Alex” is keenly observed by the engaging cast–“[People] don’t talk about anything [today], says Josh. “They just reference things. ‘I had a great weekend. I went to this wedding. It was a lot like Wedding Crashers, but meets Memento.”—but as good as the performances are, by the end of the film the story descends into melodrama which underscores the overall unoriginality of the script.
Jason Ritter, son of the late John Ritter and star of the new film About Alex, doesn’t call himself a method actor, but he used some tricks to prepare for his latest role.
“There are certain times when I try to help myself get into a mindset by trying to create circumstances around me that mimic certain feelings,” said the 34-year-old actor.
The action in About Alex begins with the drained looking titular character (Ritter), feeling cut off from his closest friends, sending a farewell tweet before attempting suicide.
“I felt like Alex might have spent some sleepless nights, haunted and alone, so I spent a lot of time just wandering around my house. I made myself coffees and tried to stay up all night. Basically not giving my brain a chance to rest. It was just about transferring that over into a more extreme version, helping me get into a mindset of someone who doesn’t see any other solution and who wants the pain to end.”
The actor, who has a recurring role on the show Parenthood, says, “it would have felt a little bit strange to me if I had gotten a great night sleep, woken up, had a big breakfast and then had to jump into the scene. I guess I don’t trust myself enough to be able to jump straight into something that heavy.”
The movie takes on a Big Chill vibe as Alex’s best friends — played by Parks and Rec’s Aubrey Plaza, Maggie Grace of Lost, Max Minghella, Non-Stop’s Nate Parker and The New Girl’s Max Greenfield — gather at an upstate New York home to support him.
“I basically fell in love with every single one of the actors there,” says Ritter, who used the remote shooting location as another chance to get into his character’s head.
“We all really created friendships on that set but then they would all go away every weekend,” he says. “They’d go back to the city and see family and friends or hangout and I would just stay up there and really feel their absence. It was like a microcosm of what it would feel like to be Alex. He feels, even though it’s not true, that he’s been abandoned by his close friends.”
That desertion, in part, comes from social media. Alex’s cries for help via twitter “get lost in the sea of tweets,” so Ritter hopes people walk away from the film, “feeling like, ‘You know who I should call right now? This person.’ Call, don’t tweet.”