Tribeca 2014: Alex of Venice – Film Review

Director: Chris Messina
Writers: Jessica Goldberg, Katie Nehra, Justin Shilton
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Messina, Don Johnson, Derek Luke, Katie Nehra, Skylar Gaertner
Runtime: 86 minutes

Most of us probably ask ourselves: do we truly understand who we are, and have we really tapped into our full potential? Chris Messina makes his directorial debut with Alex of Venice, a film that looks at that very question, presenting to audiences a lovable character, in a truly rubbish situation.

Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a motivated attorney, spending most of her time at work. When her husband suddenly decides to leave, she is left to face the things she neglected and took for granted. She is involuntarily pushed on a path to finding out who she really is, her strengths and weaknesses, all while holding her broken family and strained relationships together.

Alex of Venice

Messina is an established actor, having been involved with productions such as Argo and Ruby Sparks. With his new directorial hat on, he brings to front an interesting creative eye. Alex of Venice is an edgy production, simple filmmaking techniques paired with raw performances. You feel like you have the best seat to watch this woman untangle the issues of her life, while understanding all the background elements. Some scenes weren’t necessary, as they just added runtime to the final product, but overall, you feel part of the experience. Some cool choices include the music (and lack of in some scenes) and interesting camera angles that really captured the characters in their moments.

While the direction had a level of refinement, this film offers interesting, sophisticated performances. Mary Elizabeth Winstead successfully captures the broken Alex that we expect to see, slowly piecing together both her character and her life as the film progresses. Winstead ensures there is a balance of emotion, while not hiding her characters fragmented state. Two ends of Alex’s life are created by characters portrayed by Derek Luke and Katie Nehra; Luke’s Frank allows Alex to escape her problems, while Nehra’s Lily becomes the reality-checking sister. Both deliver relatable performances, characters you may encounter in reality. The highlight though was Don Johnson’s performance, one that was both emotional and moving. While he is Alex’s father, the circumstances of his character and the performance delivered by Johnson create this central catalyst that really tests Alex and Lily’s emotional capacity. Having such a character really did give the production an edge.

Alex of Venice

Something cool about the production is that it doesn’t shy away from presenting things how they are. It doesn’t believe that certain conclusions need to be positive, or that a scenario is good or bad. They are what they are, and the film ensures that the characters who are a part of that are going with that flow, reacting accordingly. The story could have been refined a bit more, perhaps putting more emphasis on characters such as Alex’s son or husband George (Messina). All in all, the film deserves merit for tackling a subject about everyday life, while still being able to present a heart warming story.

The film undoubtedly has a few things it could fix, such as removing a few unnecessary scenes or cutting a few short. With that said, Messina has created a film that does successfully look at a characters growth out of chaos, creating a story that isn’t exaggerated and characters that aren’t just found in fiction. Everyone experiences life’s brutal complexities and this film highlights that in a sincere and artistic fashion. A good debut for an actor-turned-director, and cannot wait to see more productions down the road.