Can one ever really go home again? After being away from the place that gave us roots as a child and then returning, it often becomes a surreal and challenging feat to replicate those roots.
It’s also a central theme that’s given form to many films, the best of which could be Ted Demme’s Beautiful Girls (1996) or perhaps even Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978) for the way it succinctly shows how catastrophe imprints itself differently on people. The idea has even been a staple for some of my own modest attempts at novel writing and the way time, memory and relationships become a shapeless shadow of themselves when one person tries to reconnect with friends and family after a decade away from home.
Needless to say, when done right, it’s a powerful way to create a narrative and writer-director-actor Kris Avedisian goes that route in his debut film Donald Cried. It’s a comedy. It could also be described as psychological horror. It’s also a low-budget indie with no real recognizable faces and even less production value. Perhaps this shapeless shadow of a film succeeds because of those detriments. It’s a wonderfully weird, uncomfortable, honest and deadpan film that begins as one thing and ends up as another, with plenty of snow, beer drinking and rambling conversations to keep the viewer unsettled throughout its nifty running time.
Fresh off a plane and back home in the middle of a Rhode Island winter, Peter (Jesse Wakeman) discovers he’s lost his wallet. Coming home to tie up loose ends and sell his recently deceased grandmother’s house, his face reveals everything the second he stands outside a yellow framed house across the street, hoping to find his old friend Donald (Kris Avedisian) and borrow some money.
Immediately, the tension is raised when Donald insists Peter come inside and relax for a bit, taking him to his upstairs room. Adorned with posters of Anthrax, the film The Prophecy (which must be some sort of in-joke itself) and autographed porn star images, Donald lives in a state of arrested development. Add to that, director-actor Avedisian portrays Donald as a spaced-out loser who rarely takes a breath to stop talking about their good times together, his deep voice bellowing like an adult but hinting at the staccato of a 15-year-old boy.
Before he’ll loan him any money, Peter allows Donald to drive him around on a few errands, and from there Donald Cried becomes a reluctant buddy movie as Donald slowly pulls Peter back into their ‘hanging out days’ of smoking pot and playing with cap guns. There’s also the diversions of precarious exchanges, such as when the two meet an old classmate at a diner and Donald tells her they were the ones who once pulled an especially dirty prank on her. The unspoken tension can be cut with a knife, and every glance and line of dialogue between the four participants is a small miracle of action and reaction. Things only go downhill from there.
Donald Cried belongs in the new strain of micro-indie films which espouse a prolonged atmosphere of unease around its characters. Directors like Rick Alverson (Entertainment and The Comedy), Joe Swanberg and Ronald Bronstein (Frownland) have carved out dedicated avenues of independent film making with alienating men and women. These efforts certainly have found an accepting audience, but I’ve found them suffocating and, yes, alienating.
Even though Donald Cried features some of the same distancing, it also reveals a subtle heart of goodness. Donald is boorish and annoying and unpleasant (even pushing the boundaries with Peter in one terrific what-the-hell moment with perfect character actor Louisa Krause), but Avedisian infuses the film with a heartache that’s lacking in similar films. We can’t imagine ourselves with someone like Donald for even five minutes. Then, after we’ve spent a full day with him, we find it hard to leave. If that’s not the perfect embodiment of going home again, then I don’t know what is.
Donald Cried opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday March 17 at the Angelika Dallas location.