Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 25 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 2; Language 7; Sex/Nudity 3.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
The heart knows its own bitterness,
and no stranger shares its joy.
Writer-director-star Kris Avedisian’s dark comedy about two old high school chums reunited 20 years after graduation is a squirm producer. Of the many outsider films that I have seen, actor Kris Avedisian’s Donald is one of the most bizarre that I can remember, a great deal of resentment and shame underlying his puppy dog excitement at seeing his old friend again. Indeed, Donald is so weird that I think even the champion of outsiders, the Man from Nazareth, might find it difficult to include this loser in his circle of outsiders. The genius of Mr. Avedesian, the writer and actor, is that by the end of the film our sympathy is transferred from the successful Peter to the pathetic, almost pathological, Donald.
Peter (Jesse Wakeman), turning his back on the carousing lifestyle of his youth, left Warwick, R.I years earlier, becoming a successful banker in New York City. He has returned to the snow-laden village to wind up the affairs of his recently deceased grandmother. Things start going wrong the instant his taxi pulls up to her house and he realizes that he has left his wallet on the bus. The disgusted driver, refusing to take him back to the station, writes off the fare and drives away. When the real estate agent Kristen (Louisa Krause) shows up to talk about selling the house, she remembers him from high school, but he pretends not to recognize her.
Needing a ride to the funeral home and some cash, Donald goes across the street to see his old friend Peter (Jesse Wakeman), who still lives there with his mother. Donald almost turns summersaults of joy at seeing Peter again. Up in his attic room, still decorated with heavy-metal, wrestling, horror-movie, and Kiss posters (even a signed pinup of a porn star’s crotch), they, or rather, Donald, reminisce about their high school days. Apparently, Peter was anything but the solid-citizen banker back then, Donald saying that he expected him to roar back into town as a long-haired biker. If ever there was a case of arrested development, the scraggily bearded Donald is it! Later on, Donald even suggests that the two of them go down to his bank and hold it up—is he kidding or not?
Peter reveals his need for a ride and for some cash, and Donald readily agrees to help. But as the day progresses, we see that it is on his terms, namely that his friend agrees to hang out with him for the day. Eager to wind up his grandmother’s affairs and return to NYC, Peter tries several times to disengage, but each time, he has to yield because of his financial need. It becomes apparent during a forced pickup tackle football game that Donald harbors a measure of resentment against his friend. He enjoys tackling Peter and holding him down in the snow longer than would be normal. During a visit to a mutual friend, who is more interested in his TV program than his visitors, we learn from an offhand remark the meaning of the film’s title, and thus can understand the source of Donald’s ambivalent feelings of love and resentment toward his friend. Peter might have forgotten the terrible thing he did to his friend years ago, but Donald has not. And we also learn that the resentment has continued because of Peter’s neglect of the grandmother whom Donald had watched over through the years. I think that Peter had not even attended her funeral, because it is only when he visits the funeral home that he takes possession of her ashes. They share some weed and then visit an old abandoned train tunnel, the film threatening to plunge the pair deeper into darkness when Donald uncovers a gun he has hidden there and points it at the friend who has wronged him.
By the end of the film we see these two men in a very different light. Both are terribly flawed, but it is apparent which is the one who has reached out to others, and which is almost totally self-absorbed. I still would not want to spend more than an hour or two with Donald, but can understand why he cried. But far less would I want to spend any time with the more conventional Peter. This is a fascinating character study that moves from comedy to near-tragedy and back again. If you don’t mind feeling uncomfortable for a little over and hour, I highly recommend it. Oh yes, one more reason that I enjoyed the film is a delightful surprise near the end when we learn the identity of Donald’s harsh bowling alley boss who had humiliated him when he had gone
To ask for the day off and to pick up his salary check. If you’re looking for a comedy far above the lame humor of most of those playing at the cinemaplexes, check this one out at your local art house.
This review with a set of questions will be in the April 2017 issue of VP.