After feeling like a prisoner in his own marriage, George (Chris Messina) decides to leave his wife, Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and kid, Dakota (Skylar Gaertner), alone to fend for themselves. Alex is taken aback by this at first, but eventually, realizes that some alone time is exactly what she needed. Though she’s a lawyer who is working on this big time case against a spa-opener (Derek Luke), she realizes that sometimes, you need to put work on the back-burner and just live life to its fullest. That means, yes, partying a lot more, and definitely, having sex. But problems begin to arise when her dad (Don Johnson) starts to struggle with a play he has currently been cast in and, even worse, is acting out in strange ways that she, as well as her sister (Katie Nehra) take notice of. Also, Alex runs into a bit of a problem with her son in that he’s spending too much time with his aunt and is learning certain things about life, love and all of that fun stuff, when Alex doesn’t want him to. Sooner than later, Alex realizes that maybe doing this whole life thing all by her lonesome self wasn’t all that fun to begin with.
Chris Messina’s the kind of character actor I love to see in anything. It doesn’t matter what it is that he’s showing up in, or for how long – as long as he’s in it and has something to do, then consider me pleased. That’s why it’s a huge shock to see him actually put himself on the back-burner and let the rest of the story, the actors and everything tell itself. Surely he has that control, seeing as how he’s the writer and director of Alex of Venice after all, but it does make me wonder: Would this movie have been a lot better with more Messina?
Should “more Messina” be an actual complaint sent-out to movies that are seriously lacking in the casting of Chris Messina-department?
Maybe. Maybe not. Basically, I’m trying to avoid having to discuss Alex of Venice and how disappointing of a film it is. This isn’t because Messina isn’t in it as much (although, there’s no harm in that, really), but because the premise calls on for what I’ve come to realize can be labeled as “later-in-life re-awakenings” sub-genre of indie dramedies. In these kinds of movies, we see an adult literally come to a crossroad in their life where they don’t know what to do, where to go, or what to make sense of; all they know is that they want to be happy and do what they want for a change, rather than appeasing those around them and giving in.
These movies are around more than one may think, and for the most part, they’re getting tired by now. Alex of Venice proves this because it shows that it doesn’t matter if you have a strong actor, a strong character, or even a strong message in the middle of it all – if you don’t find certain ways to change or dilute from the formula a bit, there’s not much to really watch or care for. Any movie that goes through the motions in a bland, rather boring manner, always bores me. However, when you’re an indie and are able to break away from the norm of what’s been set-out before one’s sight, it makes me even more upset.
The only saving grace to anything Alex of Venice has to offer is that Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as usual, is solid. She’s the kind of actress we can all depend on now to give heavy, emotionally-draining performances in small indies that may not be remembered in a few months, but are at least worth watching, if only because of the work she’s putting into it all. And as the titled-character, Alex, Winstead gets plenty to do – some good, some bad. But no matter what, we feel bad for this character and want her to reach her everlasting goal: Internal happiness.
Now, while this may be easy to feel for Alex, it’s not so easy for the rest of the characters. Which, yet again, is a bit of a shame considering the top-tier talent Messina was able to assemble here to help him fill-out these roles.
Don Johnson has a meaty role as Alex’s dad who is bordering on Alzheimer’s by the forgetful way he’s been acting, and while watching him go through the process of auditioning for a theater role, is surely unique in the way that it’s from the perspective of an older person, it still doesn’t do much for the overall message of the movie. Then, there’s Katie Nehra’s sister character, Lily, who has this look of the popular/party girl from high school who never grew up and doesn’t plan on doing so, either. Though the movie makes a hint of there being something more to this character than just that, it sort of goes nowhere once Messina realizes that he has to fill-out Alex’s story in full detail. And poor Dakota’s story-line – it’s dead before it even hits the water.
This is all disappointing, but it makes sense when you take into the equation that this is indeed Chris Messina’s directorial debut.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making up for the fact that Alex of Venice is messy, due to my love for Messina as an actor, but there is something to be said for someone literally making their first movie for the whole world to see. Sometimes, it works and shows that the person behind the camera was born for commanding the camera, rather than standing in front of it and acting. But other times, it shows that maybe while they shouldn’t give up on trying to commandeer the camera on another outing, to still take some time, mull things over, and realize what you want to do next, how you want to present it, and whether or not it’s going to be worthy of people’s view.
Until then, keep on doing what you do Chris Messina. Just make sure it’s in front of the camera. For now, at least.
Consensus: Mary Elizabeth Winstead is as solid as ever in the lead role, but Alex of Venice still hardly goes anywhere unexpected or even emotional, all because it’s clearly calculated from the beginning and held-down from too many subplots in such a short movie.
5.5 / 10