Alex of Venice

Alex of Venice is the story of a family. Plain and simple. Warts and all. Directed by first timer helmsman Chris Messina best known for his work as an actor in Vicky Barcelona and Argo in the movies, and The Mindy Project and The Newsroom on TV, the film satisfies and is deserving of your interest.

Here’s the family :

Alex – She’s an early thirties workaholic. She’s an attorney for an environmental firm call Earth Now. She’s married to George, and had a son with George called Dakota. In short, she’s going to lose a lot of what she has, and then struggle to figure out what it is that she really wants. Mary Elizabeth Winstead has the role and she’s terrific,

George is the husband. Chris Messina has the role. We see him briefly in the beginning as he tells Alex that he can’t continue to be her housewife. George is the stay-at-home Dad who has reached his limits. So he splits.

Don Johnson appears as Alex’s Dad called Roger and he lives with her and George and Dakota. Johnson, who we all remember as the cool and flashy detective, Sonny Crockett, in the 80’s police drama Miami Vice, and then, the still cool, but less flashy detective in the 90’s TV drama Nash Bridges, here plays an aging actor who likes to smoke his pot in the house claiming he needs it for medicinal reasons. He pals around with a friend played by Reg E. Cathey who starred in The Wire and more recently House of Cards.

Katie Nehra appears about halfway into the film. She plays Alex’s sister Lily. Where Alex is all business, buttoned down, and conservative, Lily is the opposite. She as wild as they come, tossing F-bombs around in the house. She had been asked to come to the house for a while by Roger, who figured Alex needed some support after George departed.

There’s a fifth wheel, a real estate developer who wants to put up a hotel/spa in the wetlands near Venice, CA. He’s played by Derek Luke. Of course it is Alex’s firm that is fighting the land use. Alex is the litigator asking the city courts to void the contracts because of environmental concerns.

So your set up is this. George leaves, Alex has to deal with work, with her son, with her now-empty bed, and take care of her Dad Roger, who is beginning to show some disturbing behavioral signs that require a trip to the doctor. Sis Lilly arrives and things take a different turn for both Alex, and Dakota.

What makes the film so interesting is that this is a slice of life that we can all relate to. Dad, or shall we call him Grandpa is aging and not getting better. Dakota is without his Dad. Alex is without her husband – the only man she has ever been with. Pressure of work, of running a household, working as a lawyer, and dealing with it all.

Working with a script by Jessica Goldberg and Katie Nehra, Messina employs some great So-Cal settings (Venice and environs) so the film just looks spectacular. The music is both catchy and apropos leading to 4 montages that are beautiful in composition.

I liked the flow of the story, which at its core looks as if it will be a basic family drama with highs and lows, and triumphs and defeats; only the film carries you along with its multiple story lines so beautifully, that you become fully invested before you can even think about it. You can’t help but empathize with Alex.

This is a family that looks and seems distinctly middle class. But what sets it apart at least for me, is the lack of sentimentality. Yes there are sunsets, and the beach-life cultural aspects of Southern California, but the film has more than enough of what we can call realism. As I said up top, when I mentioned ‘warts and all’ I meant that metaphorically. These are people who struggle, not in a life or death way – but rather in trying to cope.

You’ll believe everything you see, and what’s more it will be a delightful trip. Now I am not saying that work pressures, separation, aging, and just figuring out how to cope are humorous. What I am saying is that Messina’s venture into directing is helped by a marvelous cast, a pretty darn good script, and terrifically imagined musical montages.

For a first timer, and an indie film, this one was really to my liking I’ll bring it in at four point zero. The DVD will be released on July 15th, but if you can’t wait, you can either rent or buy the streaming video from Amazon.

Here’s the trailer:

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