You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Donald Cried’

Writer-director-star Kris Avedisian makes an amusing, affecting contribution to the comedy-of-discomfort annals.

Jesse Wakeman, Kris Avedisian, Louisa Krause, Ted Arcidi.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4442604/

Waterworks are sparse in “Donald Cried,” but there’s plenty of anxious, cringe-inducing humor to be found in writer-director-star Kris Avedisian’s comedy of discomfort. A return trip to his working-class Rhode Island birthplace produces only stress, guilt and regret for Peter (Jesse Wakeman), a Manhattan banker whose job settling the estate of his recently deceased grandmother is complicated first by the loss of his wallet, and then by a run-in with neighbor and former best friend Donald (Avedisian), who refuses to leaves him alone. Rife with awkward exchanges, absurd encounters, and an underlying sense of bitterness and shame, their ensuing saga — premiering at SXSW, and then showing in New Directors/New Films — is an amusingly squirm-inducing indie that, with the right marketing, should find its niche among connoisseurs of mortifying oddball ordeals.

Revisiting his old snow-covered stomping grounds for the first time in 20 years, Peter winds up in dire straits when he realizes he’s left his ID, cash and credit cards on the bus. After briefly meeting with Kristen (Louisa Krause), the realtor he hired to sell his grandmother’s ramshackle house — and whom he harbors a decades-old crush on, despite pretending not to remember her — Peter turns to the only place he can for help with his daily tasks: Donald. That fateful decision results in an immediately warm embrace from his old friend, a simple-minded doofus with a shaggy beard and shaggier mullet whose attic bedroom — decorated with classic-wrestling, horror-movie and heavy-metal posters, KISS action figures, and a signed pinup of a porn star’s crotch that’s Donald’s pride and joy — is a frozen-in-time shrine to their teenage heyday.

As is slowly revealed by Avedisian’s prickly script, Peter and Donald were partners in metalhead crime until Peter, for ill-defined reasons, rejected his former life, cleaned himself up, and transformed into a high-finance prig defined by his handsome overcoat, neck-strangling scarf and perpetually pinched expression. Considering Donald’s stunted-adolescent monologue about how he imagined Peter returning to town with flowing hair and veiny muscles while riding astride a mighty motorcycle, it’s not difficult to understand why Peter bolted. However, given his limited options, he reluctantly agrees to have Donald be his chauffeur — a responsibility which the man-child (who resembles the long-lost son of “American Movie’s” Mark Borchardt) readily accepts.

Donald also agrees to lend the penniless Peter some cash, and as “Donald Cried” progresses, it becomes clear that such assurances come with a catch. Exploiting Peter’s need for money, Donald proceeds to force his friend — often against his will — to spend the day with him. What ensues is a litany of embarrassments: a diner breakfast during which a run-in with a classmate quickly turns uneasy; a visit to Donald’s demeaning bowling-alley boss (Ted Arcidi); a meeting with a monotone buddy who doesn’t remember Peter fondly (because of the high-school incident to which the film’s title refers); and then a journey to their abandoned-train-tunnel hangout spot, where they smoke weed, point an unloaded gun at each other, and reminisce about a time that only Donald might still describe as “glory days.”

Throughout, Donald’s toothy grin and over-enthusiastic hugs speak to his urgent longing to reconnect with (and gain the admiration of) Peter, while a pick-up football game and a later bout of wrestling provide an outlet for the anger, frustration and hurt lurking just beneath their under-control exteriors. In virtually every closeup, “Donald Cried” practically seethes with barely suppressed emotion, though Avedisian cannily couches his characters’ very real, raw feelings amid a ridiculousness born of Donald’s wholesale weirdness.

Avedisian’s film casts Donald — too dim to transcend his sorry lot, and yet desperate for the approval of the friend who abandoned him for greener Wall Street pastures — as worthy of both mockery and pity. While the character is a type seen numerous times before, Avedisian embodies him with such off-kilter strangeness that he’s difficult to resist. While Wakeman adeptly conveys Peter’s own messy feelings about a former self, and upbringing, he’d just as soon discard, he’s ultimately just the foil for Donald’s consistently sad, bizarre attempts to recapture a past that, on the face of it, doesn’t seem to have been that happy in the first place.

Avedisian’s handheld camerawork is unobtrusive and workmanlike, and a few images — such as a shot from a minivan’s backseat that accentuates the chasm between Peter and Donald, who are almost completely nudged out of the frame — have an understated expressiveness. Yet mostly, “Donald Cried” is a showcase for its writer-director-star’s central weirdo, who unlike so many misfit indie contemporaries (*cough* Napoleon Dynamite *cough*), is treated with a respect that stems from the desire to understand, and empathize with, his clownish social-outcast sorrow.

Film Review: 'Donald Cried'

Reviewed at Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 8, 2016. (In SXSW Film Festival — competing; New Directors/New Films.) Running time: 85 MIN.

Production: An Electric Chinoland production. Produced by Kyle Martin, Sam Fleischner, Allison Carter. Executive producers, Matt Anthony, Steve Skoly, Sean Lamb, Kris Avedisian, Jesse Wakeman, Kyle Espeleta. Co-producers, Caitlin Mehner, Jon Read.

Crew: Directed, written by Kris Avedisian. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Sam Fleischner, Trevor Holden; editor, Frank Heath; music supervisor, Annie Pearlman; production designer, Kia Davis; costume designer, David Talbert; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Micah Bloomberg; effects makeup artist, Liz Coakley; casting, Lisa Lobel.

With: Jesse Wakeman, Kris Avedisian, Louisa Krause, Ted Arcidi.

More Film

  • CAA Owner TPG Buying Payroll Specialist

    CAA Owner TPG Buying Payroll Specialist Entertainment Partners

    TPG Capital, the massive private equity firm that owns Creative Artists Agency, is buying payroll specialist Entertainment Partners for an undisclosed price. Entertainment Partners’ management team, led by president and CEO Mark Goldstein, will continue in their roles. The agreement was announced Tuesday with plans to close the deal during the second quarter. More Reviews [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Agents Accuse Writers Guild of Threatening to Throw 'Industry Into Chaos'

    UPDATE – The dealmakers appear to be getting nowhere. Negotiators for Hollywood agents and the Writers Guild of America have achieved little progress at their seventh session on Tuesday, with a chaotic scenario looming on April 7. “When Guild leadership is ready to move on from their declared threatening phase, we stand ready to work [...]

  • Zoe Lister-Jones The Craft

    'The Craft' Remake Finds Director in Zoe-Lister Jones

    “Life in Pieces” star Zoe Lister-Jones will write and direct Sony Pictures’ remake of “The Craft” for Blumhouse and Red Wagon Entertainment. Doug Wick, the producer of the original “The Craft,” will return in the same capacity along with partner Lucy Fisher through their Red Wagon banner. Jason Blum is also producing and his Blumhouse [...]

  • Carol Burnett

    Carol Burnett's Mother-Daughter Story 'Carrie and Me' in Development as a Movie

    Carol Burnett’s bestseller “Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story” is in the works as a movie at Focus Features with Burnett, Tina Fey, Eric Gurian, and Steven Rogers producing. Burnett will produce through her Mabel Cat Productions with Fey and Gurian under their production banner Little Stranger along with Rogers (“I, Tonya”). The sibling [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild Plans for Agency Pact Expiration: 'There Will Be Difficult Moments'

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have sent members contingency plans for the possible expiration of its agency franchise agreement on April 7 — and admitted that it may be a rocky road. Members received the letter Tuesday from the guild’s negotiating committee as the WGA and agents were about the hold their seventh [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Entertainment One, Universal to Partner on Home Entertainment

    Entertainment One and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment have signed a multi-year, multi-territory distribution agreement. UPHE will serve as the home entertainment distributor of eOne’s offerings across both physical and digital formats. The pact covers film, television, and select family content and includes all sales, marketing, and distribution, spanning the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany, Spain, Australia, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content