Sunday, September 06, 2015

Alex of Venice

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is very good in this drama, a well-shot film that suffers from a lack of dramatic stakes. Winstead is Alex, a an environmental lawyer working out of a Venice, California storefront (for an uncredited Jennifer Jason Leigh) whose life seems as career oriented and driven as that of any Manhattan defense attorney. Alex's husband George (Chris Messina, who also directed) is tired of playing the house husband, and after George takes off to fulfill vague artistic ambitions Alex must juggle career, her 10-year old son (Skylar Gaertner), and her live-in, pothead father Roger (Don Johnson, good as a man fighting off his own decline).

With this much plot in play the movie could go anywhere, but Messina (working from a script whose authors include Katie Nehra, who plays Alex's sister) is content to let Alex of Venice be a shambling story of a woman coming back into herself. The potential issues raised by Alex's attraction to the man (Derek Luke) her firm is opposing in court are never explored, and much time is spent on Roger's casting in a local production of The Cherry Orchard. Roger is a once-famous TV actor humbled by being cast as the old servant Firs, and the reason he has such trouble remembering his lines is developed too late to add more than symbolic value to the story.

Thank goodness for Winstead, who gets to show flashes of anger, sadness, and sexuality too often denied her. This is Winstead's best role since Smashed and further indication that she is a seriously undervalued asset. Alex of Venice is a fine calling card for what she'll do next.

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