First-time director Jesse Zwick didn’t set out to make a movie in the tradition of ’80s classic The Big Chill when he wrote About Alex, his warm ensemble dramedy starring Max Greenfield, Aubrey Plaza, and Jason Ritter, among others.
“I was looking to tell a story that was personal to me and a group of friends that I had when I was in college,” Zwick explained to BuzzFeed. “There was a reunion that we tried to organize that didn’t manage to materialize.” The film, which opens in select cities this Friday, Aug. 8, was born from the idea of that reunion that never actually came to fruition, and Zwick started thinking of the events, like weddings or funerals, that bring people together — that “force us to take that time and press pause.”
“The Big Chill was always a movie that I have always loved and admired,” Zwick said of the ’80s classic, from which he ended up borrowing the basic concept of college pals reunited by the suicide attempt of one of their own — the twist is that his Alex (Ritter), unlike the one in the older movie, survived. He’s fresh from the hospital when his alarmed friends arrive from around the country, including jaded grad student Josh (Greenfield), unhappy lawyer Sarah (Plaza), writer Ben (Nate Parker), his girlfriend Siri (Maggie Grace), and hedge funder Isaac (Max Minghella).
They’re a little younger than the characters in The Big Chill, and they’re still trying to figure out who they want to be when they grow up. “I have so many friends that have already basically had two or three different careers, and that’s a fact of our generation that I found interesting,” Zwick said, pointing out that he worked as a journalist in D.C. for several years before making his way to L.A. for his current career as a filmmaker and writer on Parenthood.
That’s actually where Zwick met Ritter — he, ironically, wrote the Parenthood episode that ended up initially booting the actor’s character off the show. The remainder of the terrific About Alex cast is also filled of up-and-coming actors, most of whom are best known for distinctive TV roles. Greenfield and Plaza, who broke out thanks to their ongoing roles as very particular types on New Girl and Parks and Recreation respectively, were eager to show themselves in a different light in the film. Jane Levy, who plays Isaac’s younger girlfriend Kate, is coming off Suburgatory, while Grace will, for many people, always be Lost’s Shannon Rutherford.
They’re a wonderfully likable bunch to see together, and About Alex groups and regroups them throughout the weekend so they can all play off one another. The characters end up spending the weekend together drinking, catching up, reminiscing, and airing old resentments, as well as doing some talking about How We Live Now, which they bicker over in the exclusive clip below.
While The Big Chill centered on once-idealistic baby boomers who realize they’ve grown into jaded ’80s adults, About Alex focuses on how our twenties have become an extended adolescence and how social media brings people closer together in some ways while increasing a sense of isolation in others. “It’s increasingly easy to stay in touch with large numbers of people that you’ve befriended throughout your life in different contexts,” Zwick noted. “I do think that, at the same time, it’s very easy to potentially get a false impression that you know someone just because you happen to see the things they post, but those are obviously things that they’ve selected and curated. That’s not exactly a substitute for what you might learn in a different and more personal context.”