Saturday movie review: Alex of Venice

Watching blockbuster movies as they premiere at the theater can be the ultimate movie experience for movie lovers. That manner of watching movies isn't the norm for most folks nowadays, though. No, most folks are more like me—enjoying movies at home as soon as they premiere on DVD. Or later yet, on streaming services.

The relatively extensive lag between a blockbuster movie showing at the theater to appearing in my Netflix streaming queue means I spend a far amount of time searching streaming options for gems to watch between must-see movies I'm waiting on. I found a gem the other night: ALEX OF VENICE.

alex of venice movie

ALEX OF VENICE is the directorial debut of Chris Messina, whom many may know from TV's The Mindy Project, The Newsroom and more or movies such as ARGO and VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. With ALEX OF VENICE, Messina created an intimate, engaging drama from the screenplay written by Jessica Goldberg, Katie Nehra, and Justin Shilton and guided strong performances from the stars. He even played an important role in the film—and was nominated for the New American Cinema Award at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival for the film.

ALEX OF VENICE is a story about starting over, doing your best when challenges muck up what you thought you had under control. Mary Elizabeth Winstead play Alex, the one who seemed so in control, so adept at juggling work, parenting, marriage, extended family. Until all the balls come crashing down and she's forced to reevaluate her quite out-of-control situation.

Alex's challenges: Her only child, 10-year-old Dakota (Skylar Gaertner), isn't faring well socially at school. Her father, Roger (Don Johnson) with whom Alex, her husband, and their son live, begins showing signs of Alzheimers. And amidst all that, Roger (Messina), who had been caring for Dakota and Roger while Alex pursued her career as an attorney saving a fragile environment from commercial builders, tells Alex he wants out. "I can't be your housewife anymore," he says.



Alex's struggles resonate with viewers because most of us have been there, working our way back or starting over completely after life gets in the way of our plans and intentions.  Or we, like Alex, are the ones getting in our own way for the most part, unintentionally causing the chaos about us. Although some of her choices were quite far from how I may have handled the upheaval, Winstead played Alex with heart and honesty, making me feel for her and with her.

Don Johnson was a surprisingly likeable (though often crotchety) Roger. For some of us, Roger's moments of dementia may resonate more than Alex's messed up marriage and parenting fails. Either because we ourselves are struggling with forgetting things, not getting technology, or trying to restart a faltered career. Or because we see such things happening with our own parent—scaring the hell out of the parent and adult child.

All the cast—including Derek Luke, Jennifer Jason Leigh and a few other familiar faces—play their parts well, and the subtle, minimally saturated cinematography (sometimes even misty and ethereal) add to the intimate feel of the film.

Each character in ALEX OF VENICE is vulnerable in one way or another, needs to start over and find a better way of managing where they're at in life rather than where they used to be or where they unrealistically wish they were. The need to change and move on is understood by each in small moments versus heart-stopping revelations.

It's those small moments that made me keep watching, made me want to share this film here. It's unlikely many Grandma's Briefs readers would have anxiously awaited its theater premiere and paid to see it on the big screen. But when searching for something to watch from the comfort of your couch, I recommend giving ALEX OF VENICE a shot. It won't change your life nor top your list of forever favorites, but it's certainly worth the 89-minute runtime.

(Plus, Don Johnson is still as handsome as ever—and doesn't seem as arrogant as he often seemed in the past—so viewing just to see him may appeal to some.)

Note: There is a lot of swearing, some drug use, some conversations and situations involving casual sex—though no nudity or graphic images—in the movie.

ALEX OF VENICE (rated R for "language including sexual references, and some drug use") premiered at film festivals in 2014 and opened in US theaters April 2015. It's now available on DVD, Netflix Streaming and other streaming services.