It’s really not that surprising that actor, and now director, Chris Messina, chose a gem of a project to direct, about a woman forced to re-evaluate her life when her husband checks out, as his directorial debut. After all the actor has seamlessly jumped back and forth from television to film, and from comedy (“The Mindy Project) to dramas (“Damages”). The versatile actor picked a slice of life script to direct, that’s endearing, as it is a mirror on it’s audience, showing that no one really ever has life figured out, but with the help and presence of loved ones, we can surely cope, and redirect towards happiness.
In “Alex of Venice”, the Venice refers to Venice, California, not Italy, where our main character, Alex resides with her husband George, son Dakota and
father, Don Johnson, in a surprising memorable component to the film. George is raising Dakota at home, as Alex is immersed and preoccupied with her work as a lawyer at an environmental organization. When George decides to check out and leave, so he can find himself, Alex is forced to take on all the responsibilities at home that George once handled. These include taking her son to school, feeding him and caring for her father to make sure he takes his medicine. As a large case at work requires Alex’s attention, so does her home life demand her presence, or threaten falling apart. Alex must re-evaluate her life, cope without George, and try and find some sort of happiness amidst the chaos.
The cast of this enchanting film is solid and benefit from thoroughly fleshed out characters, led by Mary Elizabeth Winstead who plays Alex. Winstead is likable and great at playing a ‘seemingly’ put together woman with a career,who has a fragile inner spirit that begins to unravel. Her job as an environmental lawyer, on the side of the underdog, fuels and justifies Alex’s attention to her work, while having a blind eye to her life at home. When her free spirited sister, Lily (Katie Nehra) surprises Alex, and informs her she’s moving in for awhile, and can offer her help with Alex’s son, Dakota and their father, Alex isn’t sure this is a good idea, but can’t refuse the much needed help. Nehra, helped co-write this lovable script, and provides some of the most honest, and raw dialogue that is laugh out loud funny. Her scenes with young actor, Skylar Gaertner, who plays Dakota are priceless, especially as they drive through Los Angeles, hang at the beach or play hooky from Dakota’s school. Lily speaks to her nephew with an unfiltered voice ignoring Dakota’s youth, and solidifying why, I couldn’t get enough of her time on screen.
This year at Tribeca Film Festival, it seemed to be the year of the child actor making an impact on a slew of remarkable films. Skylar Gaertner was smart and ahead of his years, as Alex’s son. Gaertner conveyed a young boy who knows his father has left, but is trying to balance his confusion with being a normal boy. The always quirky and frankly great addition to any script, Timm Sharp, adds additional humor and awkwardness to Alex’s character. Finally, Don Johnson was a surprising and excellent component to “Alex of Venice”, as the father to Alex and Lily. As a character actor in L.A., who is up for major role in a play, he spends his free time pot smoking, hanging with his buddy, and making inappropriate comments to his daughters.
“Alex of Venice” on a larger scale is about looking at our lives that may or may not be working, and figuring out healthier paths. On a smaller scale, the film will immerse the audience into it’s realistic storyline, and have them feel with compassion and joy for these lovable characters.