Title: Alex of Venice
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: "I move for a 'bad court thingy.'"
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three-and-a-half spotted owls out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Attorney is actually a decent person.
Tagline: "Her life is just getting started. Again."
Better Tagline: "Even moms like to pop molly once in a while."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is an environmental lawyer working to block the development of a new luxury hotel/spa while juggling the raising of her son Dakota. So it's not the best time for husband George (Chris Messina, also directing) to decide he needs to find himself, or for slacker/actor dad Roger (Don Johnson) to finally start losing his mind.
"Critical" Analysis: Has *this* ever happened to *you*: there you are, working diligently at an underpaid and largely thankless job, attempting to raise a happy, well-adjusted child, and your husband -- resentful of the fact he's either a failed artist, a stay-at home dad, or possibly both -- decides he "needs his space?"
I'm happy to say Alex of Venice doesn't offer an easy answer to our titular character's dilemma. Sometimes life hands you lemons (slacker old man possibly edging towards dementia, nowheresville career) and about the only lemonade you can make is the philosophical realization there's a lot in life that's just out of our hands.
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I wish I came up with that myself, but there's a line from Chekhov's Cherry Orchard (the play Roger auditions for): "Life's gone on as if I'd never lived." That pretty much sums it up. Alex is doing her best to (I'm paraphrasing here) make a better world for her son. Maybe she should have started by not giving him a girl's name, but anyway. The point is, there's only so much out there that's under our control.
An obvious message? Maybe. And in the hands of a Brett Ratner or lesser cast, it'd be lost like any of a thousand limited releases that fade into obscurity two weeks into their run (although with Ratner maybe you'd also get Chris Tucker screaming for 90 minutes). This is Messina's first film, and he keeps things simple, choosing to focus on the little victories Alex is able to eke out. Admittedly, she experiences a great deal of personal growth in the space of a week, but give Winstead credit. She's always felt like she's a good actor in search of a signature role, and she may have found it here, offering a realistic portrayal and navigating Alex's crises with a minimum of self-pity.
Johnson is also continuing a nice recent run of roles that began with last year's Cold in July. Roger could be a one-note pain in the ass, but Johnson imbues him with something like dignity, and keeps the disability angle from coming across too maudlin. Messina is a trifle too unsympathetic (if that's possible), while Katie Nehra plays Alex's sister Lily as the almost wholly irresponsible yin to Alex's yang, and Derek Luke takes a thoughtful turns as a not entirely heartless land developer.
Alex of Venice works precisely because Messina and company avoid getting bogged down in larger issues. Alex eventually realizes wanting what's best for her son doesn't mean self-sacrifice is necessarily what's best in life. Sometimes you gotta crush your enemies and hear the lamentations of the women, too.