Director: Kristopher Avedisian
Starring: Jesse Wakeman, Kristopher Avedisian, Louisa Krause
Kris Avedisian’s ‘Donald Cried’ is just about as indie as they come. In fact, if you sat with a checklist throughout you’d no doubt have Sundance season bingo within a healthy five minutes of screen time. Minimal Kickstarter-backed budget? Check. Emotional, semi-nostalgic midlife crisis story? Check. Former indie hotshot attached as ‘executive producer’? Check mate.
Of course all of these things tied up together don’t necessarily make for a bad film, just for something that’s quite often, frustratingly predictable. There’s a few neat flourishes here and there, sparks of genuine comedy and a central character that’s well worth the running time alone; it’s the base plotting that makes ‘Donald Cried ultimately a little hard to stick through. It’s a meaningful debut, sure enough, but one that we’ve all seen at least a hundred times before.
Something of a buddy comedy at heart, Avedisian pairs straight-talking Peter (Jesse Wakeman), a small-town runaway returning twenty-or-so years later to clear up his dead grandmother’s estate, with walking calamity Donald (Avedisian himself), his former best friend who never quite managed to outrun his high-school days. One’s small and business-like, the other’s lanky and bearded, rocking out-of-date specs and an apparently filter-less conversational manner. It’s funny because they’re opposites, we get it.
And we’ve been getting it for quite some time now, so it’s such a shame that the hefty portion of ‘Donald Cried’s humour feels derived from this ultra basic set-up. Narratively speaking, Avedisian finds some solid ground in forcing the two together, and Donald as a character is an indisputably clever creation; just awkward enough to warrant laughs without quite fringing on the audience-dividing ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ model. The two of them just really deserve a better movie to flex their comedic muscles in.
Considering this comes from a short of the same name, apparently surrounding the same core character, it’s no surprise that Avedisian’s Donald works. He’s a refined creation, tested time and time again in the vein of a more subtle Sacha Baron Cohen or Mike Myers type. There’s so much potential for more, and whilst the plot ticks along fine enough, it never quite manages to escape the fact that it’s nothing more than a largely empty shell, weirdly avoiding Donald’s own dark-hearted sense of humour in favour of something a lot more straight-laced.
With the likes of Jody Hill attached and plenty of room (hell, even set-up) for it, it comes as a sorry surprise that ‘Donald Cried’ never really tries to push the envelope as much as you’d expect. It’s clear he never means to be, but Wakeman ends up as something of a charisma vacuum; Peter’s just too difficult to pin down and seems totally hell-bent on steering the entire plot towards an unending sense of beige, that values indie stereotypes and never leans towards anything even remotely daring.
On the surface there’s not an awful lot wrong with ‘Donald Cried’. It’s shot well enough, and strings together as you’d expect, with a neat little emotional finale, but it’s just all so middle-of-the-road pedestrian that it ultimately makes you wonder why you even bothered. You won’t come away changed or deeply affected; you probably won’t even laugh that much. Minus a few noted jokes, you’ll no doubt forget you’d even seen this film within days of that final credit roll.
For indie fans, it’s a manageable 90 minutes, but there’s certainly better and, yes, more daring stuff out there that’s worth a try first.