Donald Cried (2016) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but definitely R for graphic nudity, language, and drug use
Running Time: 85 min.
Cast: Jesse Wakeman, Kristopher Avedisian, Louisa Krause, Ted Arcidi
Director: Kristopher Avedisian
Screenplay: Kristopher Avedisian
Review published March 18, 2017
After his grandmother passes away, late-30s New York financier Peter Latang (Wakeman, Accidents) reluctantly returns to his home town in Warwick, Rhode Island, for the first time in about two decades, to tidy up her estate. Unfortunately, he inadvertently loses his wallet en route, causing him to seek out his old high school friend Donald Treebeck (Avedisian, Almost Human) for a few bucks, though he hasn't been in contact in about as long as he bailed on his past. While Peter has matured to the point where he virtually disowns the metal-head delinquent he once was, Donald has yet to move on, perpetually stuck reliving the only time in his life when he felt genuinely happy, or so he imagines. While Peter just wants to get out of town as soon as possible, getting money out of Donald proves a challenge, partially because Donald is also broke, and partially because Donald, desperately trying to connect with his old friend since they parted, wants to keep hanging out and relive glory days with the last true friend he had.
The Kickstarter-funded Donald Cried, an expansion of a 2012 short film, also starring Avedisian and Wakeman, falls under the category of "cringe comedy", finding laughs in awkward moments when an overbearing and unaware cad of a character perpetually finds ways to embarrass those around him. While it has become somewhat of a staple now in terms of indie and television comedies, it is an effective way to show the humanity underneath the shenanigans, offering moments of pathos for characters that might have otherwise come off as one-dimensional. We've seen the subgenre become successful in films like What About Bob? and TV shows like "The Office", as well as gain Academy Award nominations in excellent films like Toni Erdmann, a film to which Donald Cried shares some coincidental narrative similarities.
At a certain point in the film, you realize that this is one of those cases where one of the characters has to give. Either man-child Donald has to finally let go of the past and the friend who left a long time ago, or Peter has to unpeel the layers of stuffy persona that he has adopted over the years in order to mature into the world of big city businessman. Layers are certainly what's been provided by its screenwriter-director-costar Kristopher Avedisian, who makes what could have been just a purely irritating character someone who emerges wholly sympathetic, revealing the significance of a moment alluded to in the title that encapsulates the love-hate relationship between the dorky misfit just looking for a connection and the lonely guy who befriends him while also wanting to maintain his distance from a perpetual source of embarrassment.
Represented as a day-in-the-life for its characters, Donald takes Peter to old stomping grounds, and they have run-ins with people from their school days, though the memories aren't ones Peter is fond to dig up, and outright disowns in a couple of instances. The film, while amusing, isn't always playing for overt laughs, and you may find yourself limited to laughing inside at some of the antics, mostly due to gaining enough compassion for the characters to be both entertained from a distance, but also to have empathy for their particular suppressed pain that governs their current behavior. It tickles the funny bone and breaks the heart at the same time.
Donald Cried is the thematic representation of the difficult resolution among those who've matured into life must resolve their own awkward upbringings, at once wishing to distance oneself from the vulnerable and confusing days where they earned a reputation they aren't exactly proud of, but also realizing that in those pursuits that led to the embarrassment, there was a fun-factor involved in taking immature risks. Peter and Donald here, while seemingly polar opposites, are merely two sides of the same coin, exhibiting both sides that many men experience of externally portraying the man one thinks they should be, while also stifling that inner child inside. While we might try to escape our past, we also carry it with us, perhaps taking a re-establishment of dormant connections to tap into yet again, for better or for worse.
While its indie-film sensibilities, improvisational style, sorrowful underpinnings, and offbeat characterizations may not hit the spot for everyone, Donald Cried is one of those films that, like Donald himself, threatens to irritate before ultimately growing on you, lingering in the memory even days after seeing. For those in tune, one would suspect that it won't take you twenty years to revisit Donald and his stomping grounds.
©2017 Vince Leo