Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 08, 2016 4:55 pm 
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Dramady of financier who revisits his New England home town after 20-year absence only to be waylaid by an old buddy

It seems as if Kris Avedisian made this little movie just to showcase his own talents playing a tiresome loser buddy. But he does it so well, this is okay. To set things up, he sends Peter Latang (Jesse Wakeman) back to his hometown of Warwick, Rhode Island to settle his grandmother's affiars. She has just died in a nursing home. Peter hasn't been back in twenty years and he hates the place. On the way to town, he has lost his wallet, and though he's now a hotshot in finance in New York, he's stuck. So after meeting a real estate agent who's a former flame he goes to see his old pal, Donald Treebeck (Avedisian) to borrow money. And this is where the fun begins. Peter is essentially a straight man for Donald. Wakeman's main job is not to get in Avedisian's way.

What follows is a depiction of what it might be like for someone who has become grown up and uptight and turned into a high achiever to revisit a place when he spent his time doing drugs, wearing eye liner, and listening to Heavy Metal -- in the company of someone who has not moved on from that earlier time. Avedisian's Donald is a hilarious, cringeworthy portrait. Partly he is pathetic, particularly his decades-long desire to have is best buddy back, to get stoned, stock up on munchies, and go to a movie. When he learns Peter would rather meet up with the real estate agent -- by himself -- he's devastated. But Donald is no cliché. He's as good as or better than any Kevin Smith or Judd Apatow creation. That includes the abusive TV wrestling fan bowling alley owner Donald works for, who turns out to be his mom's boyfriend. And the complexity of the dual portrait is enhanced by the way Donald and Peter's interactions turn violent at times.

We feel keenly Peter's dilemma. He has been out of touch with Donald because he has no use for his former life, but Donald is a necessity now, and gradually also an obligation, because he brings out the decency in Peter as he humors Donald's whims, and also takes Peter back to when getting stoned with slackers was good fun. Avedisian's performance and character creation is the main event, but it is given three dimensionality by the character Wakeman creates as Peter. Donald develops as Peter does, morphing from absurd obnoxious bore to sympathetic fool when his essential sweetness gradually emerges, even as he never ceases to be cloying and embarrassing.

Kris Avedisian has wrung vibrant changes on a conventional Amerindie trope, the homecoming movie, which becomes realer and funnier in this version through the brilliance of his improvisational skills. A new talent is born, whose invention could develop equally richly in comedic or purely dramatic directions.

Donald Cried, 85 mins., its making and distribution funded through Kickstarter, debuted at SXSW 12, 13 and 16 March 2016, reviewed there in Variety by Nick Schrader and in Indiewire by Eric Kohn. It was screened for this review at New Directors/New Films, where it was shown 19 and 20 March.

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