Donald Cried (2017)
Dir.: Kris Avedisian
Ever since films like The Big Lebowski and Napoleon Dynamite ensured moviegoers that films could be made centered around the social outcasts that films of the 70s and 80s tended to relegate as the over-exaggerated comic reliefs in serious dramas, never seeming to be allowed front and center of the camera. Donald Cried continues this trend established by films such as these, as it takes an indie drama through the eyes of an awkward, immature adult man named Donald, as he reconnects with Pete, his best friend from high school. The dichotomy between Donald and Pete drives the film, as Pete's entitled cynicism clashes with Donald's naive and ignorant optimism. What follows separates itself from several other quirky indie films by presenting great development in the pair's friendship, and by providing a huge sense of heart among the cringe.
The film opens with Pete losing his wallet. Unable to acquire anyone else's assistance, Pete runs into Donald, and begrudgingly asks for his help, to which Donald over-enthusiastically provides. While the film at first leads the viewer into believing he or she will witness a simple generic independent cringe comedy, the dramatic elements of the narrative that unfold take over in unexpected ways. Donald proves to be more complex and developed than the film's first act lets on, and Pete's mental and emotional shortcomings become all too apparent. The film's writing presents a solid debut for writer, director and star Kris Avedisian, as he shows that he can tell a story and develop a character with heart and sincerity despite his flaws.
The film is a contained, intimate affair, and as such, the focus remains almost entirely on its two leads. Both Kris Avedisian and Jesse Wakeman stretch their acting ranges thin, portraying a wide variety of incredibly mixed emotions. Though the scenes begin as mere awkward interactions as Pete becomes reacquainted with Donald, both characters learn much more about each other than one might expect from another indie dramedy of this film's kind, and as such, the different conversations and confrontations that develop between Avedisian and Wakeman are make-or-break for the film. Luckily the film never feels false or insincere, though there are never really any hugely standout moments of cinematic awe. It's a cut above other generic Sundance darlings purely on Avedisian's dedication to the character of Donald, but not much else feels as transcendent. The cinematography is intimate, but not in a shallow depth of field kind of way. There are several instances of handheld long takes in cars and in confined spaces that made the film feel naturalistic, but nothing extraordinary. Bear in mind if you're a fan of soundtracks, there is no score in this film, and whether this was due to budget constraints or an artistic decision, it remains to be seen.
Donald Cried has more character development and heart than it lets on in its first half, and it's definitely a slow journey to get to the meat of the narrative themes, though they are hinted at early on. It's a film that deals with the struggles of growing up, and as each character deals with adulthood in entirely perpendicular ways, they learn to come to a more mutual understanding despite their differences. Though the actions of the narrative can seem a little depressing and mean-spirited initially, Donald Cried soon proves that it's got more moxy than malice.