“What do we want to leave behind?”
A number of questions are posed by the characters over the course of Alex of Venice, a harmless film without any real motive. There is nothing particularly wrong with the approach taken by Chris Messina is his directorial debut. And the cinematography by Doug Emmett, with some tremendous establishing shots of the Los Angeles scenery, resembles the tawny hue of his previous work on The One I Love. The odd man out is the story, not because it’s poor, but because there is nothing to be said here. Alex isn’t memorable. The events in her life aren’t groundbreaking. Little to no dialogue resonates. Alex of Venice is not a bad film. It’s just all too comfortable with its own transitory sense of placation to elicit the intimate moments that small, character-driven films like this have to thrive on. There’s simply not enough story.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Alex, a workhorse attorney recently given a case to stop a development from being built upon important wildlife. She’s married to stay at home dad and painter George (Messina) and the two have a shy, introverted son. Living with them is Alex’s father (Don Johnson). He’s laid back, smokes pot in the house, and is trying to continue his stage acting career with a role in a Chekhov play. Alex thinks she has everything under control, especially George, who she treats as more of a housekeeper than a husband and partner. George can’t take not being himself anymore and leaves his family behind. Alex is clueless as to what to do.
Alex isn’t the focus of this movie and she is a poorly written character. When George decides to leave she asks, “but who is going to grill the steaks at Dakota’s birthday party?” Seriously, that’s the best they could come up with? We don’t find out who she truly is on this path of discovery . She’s a workaholic who needs to reinvent herself and her life. But instead of taking a liberating route, she decides to sleep with the man who she is building a court case against. She has no arc or explanation, and as far as I know the only thing I really gathered about her, that she lives in Venice, could be learned from reading the title and moving along. Winstead is such a disarming and talented actress that she manages to keep Alex endearing, if still a little irritating. All the while there is so much nonsense going on, with the crazy Aunt visiting and her father’s illness and her own lapses in love that we never get to know her. Great characters can be described by countless adjectives. Alex is a noun accompanied by a handful of verbs.
While it’s a breath of fresh air to see the stereotypical gender roles temporarily reversed – the man as the homekeeper and the woman the provider- it’s shown through a slightly negative lens. George can’t continue being her lickspittle and she has lost all sense of herself and her surroundings. George is in the picture for no more than 15 minutes, and while Alex is always there physically, she’s emotionally faraway. We watch movies to be entertained, but this is too grounded and so boringly monotonous that the audience doesn’t get to escape into the world, thus not believing the central character’s own attempt to break free. It aims to please by showing a modern-day woman grabbing her life by the horns and really discovering herself. However, it’s written with such a dull and mechanical pencil that you’ll quickly realize Alex of Venice literally has no point.
“How am I gonna do without you?”
Rating: 1.5 out of 5