Multi-storied mounds of snow, weathered paint, and lurching trees. In Donald Cried, winter in Rhode Island is like hemotoxic venom. Writer, director and actor Kris Avedisian’s comedic misadventure is a coming home tale that wears its Greek theater masks with barely contained euphoria. Much like Ted Demme’s 1996 film Beautiful Girls, Donald Cried centers around a hesitant, sometimes baleful, protagonist who comes home to deliberately – and sometimes unintentionally – reconnect with his past. Here, we follow the withdrawn and humorless Pete (Jesse Wakeman), a businessman from Manhattan whose personality is repugnant opportunist meets weary pessimist. In a haphazard attempt to scatter his grandmother’s ashes, our aforementioned antihero ends up tethered to his high school friend, Donald (Avedisian), a socially abhorrent figure who moves his mouth faster than pinball flippers. The two characters lock horns, as you would expect, over the course of a tire-spinning night of mercurial antics.
Avedisian’s script repurposes the odd couple formula, only barely, to mine for psychological malaise and adolescent trauma. But the surface-level character analysis is really just an excuse to paintball the audience with powdered sugar and snowballs. Donald’s behavior – a volatile mix of derelict awareness and petulant anarchism – is somewhere between Matt D’Elia’s American Animal and, if you can believe it, Rik Mayall’s Drop Dead Fred. The unpredictable, sizzling fuse of this particular character is more of a prop than a personality type. And so we’re never fully invested in the howling naivete of Donald, or his banal but unhappy relationship with his family (something that Avedisian wants the audience to be moved by, despite the script only nominally touching on the topic).
Pete’s poorly tailored, coal-black clothes are loosely indicative of his dour and indecisive personality. A shock of red, in the form of a scarf, is telling of his barely repressed rage. Avedisian litters the film with aesthetic choices that are film class 101: Color as motif! Twenty-years ago, Pete could have been played by Paul Reiser or Timothy Hutton with the same steely hubris. It’s a character that is as incurious as it is underwhelming.
As the night progresses into a face-swatting, tunnel-crawling kaleidoscope of misanthropic immaturity, the screenplay devolves into the same carousel of drama: “What will Donald do to upset Pete this time?” Opening March 17 at Ken Cinema, Avedisian’s debut is somewhere between the awkward trappings of Todd Solondz and the fog covered whimsy of Todd Rohal, but never transcends into anything more.