Sunday, March 15, 2009

Does ALEXANDER THE LAST augur Swanberg's swan song to Mumblecore?

TrustMovies asks the above question because Joe Swanberg's latest is such a major step up from his earlier work that one can only wonder where he'll go from here. I never bought into the Mumblecore moniker anyway: it was rarely the dialog or sound in these movies that annoyed -- more the fractured, hand-held camerawork that had me flummoxed. I'd have called the genre Wobblyview. But not this time.

ALEXANDER THE LAST offers, by earlier Swanberg stardards (though not by those of, say, Aaron Katz's Quiet City), near-pristine visuals; a story and characters that matter (mostly because these people seem to care more about themselves and others: maybe they're all -- including Swanberg -- growing up); a psychological astuteness that is surprising, to say the least; and a theme -- love and lust in art and life -- very much worth tackling. That Swanberg has cast more professional actors in many of the roles also seems to have made a big difference to his end result. Is this perhaps due to his recent connection with Noah Baumbach, who helped produce the film? Whatever:

Jess Weixler (below left), who brought so much in the way of looks, charm and acting talent to her earlier movies The Big Bad Swim and Teeth here proves she can help carry a movie based around talk, ideas and sex. Given a cast that includes ace actors Jane Adams (below, center, who brought the dead Little Children briefly to life and added to the delights of The Wackness) and Josh Hamilton (barely seen below right, from the brilliant stage version of The Cider House Rules, Sorry, Haters and the recent don't-dare-miss-it Outsourced) plus up-and-comers like Amy Seimetz (shown above, from Wristcutters), Barlow Jacobs (Shotgun Stories) and Mumblecore hero Justin Rice (shown two photos below, with guitar) there's hardly a scene in the movie that's not real and engaging.

Regarding the movie's theme, for those of you out there in loveland who make it a point never to date an actor of either sex (unless, of course, you're an actor yourself), this movie explains why your decision is such a smart one. By presenting in graphic detail -- visual, verbal, emotional -- what happens when two attractive people (Weixler and Jacobs) must create a "real" relationship on stage, Alexander the Last makes it clear that the temptation to cross over from art into life is probably more than most human beings can withstand. That the play-within-the-film's writing/directing creative team (Adams and Hamilton) are interested only in their "art" and not in what this is doing to the real lives involved (which, where art is concerned, is as it must be), makes things all the more difficult for the Weixler character's home life.

Psychologically, the movie is generally on target, too, perhaps most of all as Weixler, who's growing attracted to her co-star, virtually pimps out her sister to handle the real relationship (and sex) so that Weixler can somehow circumvent this by putting a semi-incestuous roadblock in her way. The repercussions all-round are not pretty but make sense, given the human predilection to, first, blame someone else.

All this is not to say that Swanberg has made a work of art. But since few films are, we can settle for an interesting (and short!) 72 minutes, during which he seems to have learned on-the-job, as do so many young writer/directors. When, as here, the movement is upwards, we go home from the theater happy.

Or remain home, if we've happened to watch the movie On-Demand, which is how much of the audience for Alexander the Last will be doing it. The film had its world premiere yesterday at the SXSW fest and simultaneously on the IFC Festival Direct, where it will be available nationwide on-demand for 90 days from most major cable systems. The film can be ordered in the IFC Films menu within each cable company's on-demand platforms (some will also offer a special SXSW-branded tab).
Which cable companies carry IFC Movies On Demand?
Try any of these below:
Bright House (Movies On Demand/IFC In Theaters)
CableVision (Movies On Demand/IFC In Theaters) or Ch. 508
Charter (Ch. 1 /Movies On Demand/IFC In Theaters)
Comcast (Ch. 1 /Movies On Demand/IFC In Theaters)
Cox (Ch. 1 /Movies On Demand/IFC In Theaters)
Insight (Ch. 1 /Movies On Demand/IFC In Theaters)
Time Warner (Movies On Demand/IFC In Theaters).

No comments: