Alex of Venice (2014)

Alex of Venice (2014)
  • Time: 86 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Chris Messina
  • Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Messina, Don Johnson


Workaholic attorney, Alex [Winstead] is forced to reinvent her life after her husband suddenly leaves. Now faced with the humdrum and sometimes catastrophic events that permeate the fabric of our lives, Alex discovers both a vulnerability and inner strength she had not yet tapped all while trying to hold together her broken family.

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  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the titular Alex of Venice, a workaholic environmental lawyer who finds her life upturned when her stay-at-home husband George (Chris Messina) confides, “I can’t be your housewife anymore.” She’s floored, reminding him that he was the one who encouraged her to go back to work whilst he would take case of their son Dakota (Skylar Gaertner), and that she never stopped him from pursuing his passion of painting. “Besides,” she says, not realising she’s making his case for him, “who’s going to grill the steaks [at my dad’s party]?”

    Suddenly, Alex has to deal with the intricacies of George’s everyday, including taking care of the shy and withdrawn Dakota, and ensuring that her dad Roger (Don Johnson) takes his litany of pills. Multitasking her home life yields far different results from multitasking her work life. It’s no surprise that she tasks her forgetful father to pick up Dakota from school; it’s no surprise that it’s Alex who ends up rushing to Dakota’s school when no one comes for her son. Relief comes in the form of her free-spirited and foulmouthed sister Lily (co-screenwriter Katie Nehra), though Alex is too focused on work to realise Dakota has been skipping school to hang out in Venice Beach with his aunt.

    Alex of Venice is filled to the brim with such predictable plot points, and it certainly does not take any detours to arrive at those points. The second one sees Derek Luke as the developer brought to court for violating environmental standards by Alex’s firm, one need only count the minutes before his character and Alex are partaking in some afternoon delight. Of course, the case will complicate their relationship just as much as it complicates Alex’s slow-dawning realisation that only she can take responsibility for raising her son.

    Its ambitions are modest and its charms low-key, Alex in Venice is a well-presented effort from Messina, whose own unfussiness as an actor informs his handling of his directorial debut. Character and observation are the key focus, and Messina and the trio of screenwriters (Nehra, Jessica Goldberg, and Justin Shilton) favour a muted approach for some of the more dramatic scenes. This is admirable, but it neuters the narrative which unfolds along one unwavering register. It would have been ideal to add more depth to some of the supporting players. Reg E. Cathey, for example, is capable of far more than playing Johnson’s sidekick. Nehra’s welcome energy can’t disguise the fact that Lily is a thinly drawn character.

    The filmmakers do right by Winstead and Johnson. The latter offers a touching portrait of a man whose memory lapses are more serious than they appear. The lovely Winstead, coming off an incredible turn in Faults, seems particularly renewed as an actress. Intensely likable and unfailingly relatable, she anchors the film with grace and subtlety.

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