DONALD CRIED * * *
Starring Jesse Wakeman, Kris Avedisian, Louisa Krause, Ted Arcidi and Jeremy Furtado. Written and directed by Kris Avedisian.
One of the biggest WTF moments I’ve ever had at a film festival was during IFFBoston last year, when the Q&A for Donald Cried began and it immediately became apparent that writer-director Kris Avedisian had also played the title character.
In retrospect I shouldn’t have been so shocked –this information was clearly noted in the credits to which I had not paid attention—but I can’t express the awe and admiration I felt upon discovering that this thoughtful, talented young filmmaker was also the mulleted, marble-mouthed cretin I’d found so captivating for the previous ninety minutes.
Honestly, if some hipster NYU kid had come out after the movie and claimed that Donald Treebeck was a random loser he’d run into at a Rhode Island bowling alley and decided to shoot a movie around, I’d have believed it. Avedisian’s performance is just too perfect — with his badly cut bangs, oversized glasses and a gigantic, toothy grin that can’t quite disguise the desperate sadness in his eyes. He’s that kind of New England dude who wears a flannel over a paint-stained hoodie and will never, ever stop telling unimpressive anecdotes about wicked awesome stuff that happened way back in high school.
And now Donald’s oldest friend Peter (Jesse Wakeman) is back in Warwick, RI for the day. He’s become a hotshot New York City finance guy who we instantly can tell is a creep thanks to his douchebag scarf and the lazy movie shorthand of giving him one of those Bluetooth earpieces. Peter’s trying to sell off his late grandmother’s house and at some point during the process loses his wallet, leaving him no choice but to ask his estranged former pal from across the street for help. Donald, who still lives in his childhood bedroom festooned with blacklight posters and hardcore porno pinups, is eager to be of service. Or is he?
In the guise of helping him out, Donald drags Peter through a cringe-comedy marathon of awkward situations, reliving the worst parts of high school that seemingly never ended for denizens of this slushy, bitter-cold abyss. The deeply uncharismatic Peter is no prize either, and as this long night’s journey into day grinds on, we learn more about these characters’ particular histories and see a cycle of bullying seldom shown in American movies – those on the bottom rungs of social ladders tend to stomp one another more viciously than anyone above them could ever be bothered with.
Save for a too-long, poorly judged diversion in which audiences are supposed to think Donald might be dangerous, the movie is a gaspingly funny, squirm-inducing comedy of embarrassment. Fancy, moneyed Peter retreats back to his worst, middle-school self the way successful people often tend to fall apart when spending too much time in hometowns they hate. Avedisian has an eye for the psychological doldrums accompanying what New England weathermen call “wintery mix.” Getting anywhere is a slog that wears on people at this time of year, and Donald Cried is the rare movie that knows it.
We’re left to wonder how many of these awkward catastrophes result from Donald intentionally trying to humiliate Peter, and how many are just accidental stupidity. There’s a glint, though, that you can see from time to time in Avedisian’s eyes – and it’s a testament to his brilliant performance that it might be something sinister, or Donald could just be really stoned.