Avedisian harnesses comedic awkwardness to reveal deeper feelings of desperation, regret and fear.
Say what you will about Facebook’s shady data mining, inconsistent censorship policies and aggressive tax avoidance; the social media mega-site has at least provided a valuable service that was hard to come by in the pre-Internet age: a fully self-curated social circle. Sick of your cousin’s pro-Trump rants? Block that fool. Hate seeing your ex-partner post pics of themselves with their new partner? Remove them from your feed. Is a casual acquaintance randomly liking posts you made five years ago? Unfriend them altogether. Facebook makes it so you don’t have to interact with anyone or anything you find annoying, boring or, in the case of your ex-partner, depressing, which, while perhaps generating those pesky “bubbles” we’ve all been accused living in, effectively removes any possibility of awkward interactions with people we find bothersome or exasperating. The problem is that whenever we encounter these situations in real life, we’re far less equipped to deal with them.
That’s one of the underlying premises of Donald Cried, the debut feature comedy by writer-director Kris Avedisian. The film isn’t explicitly about social media, but that provides a basis for the painfully uncomfortable reunion of estranged friends Peter (Jesse Wakeman) and Donald (Avedisian), which unearths the kind of complex mixture of guilt and shame that people spend time avoiding online. The moments when we’re unable to avoid those precise feelings of guilt and shame have become particularly charged and traumatic in ways they previously weren’t, as the film illustrates. The movie is set up to deliver a series of cringe-worthy set pieces, but rather than rest easy on cheap humor or contrived melodrama, Avedisian harnesses comedic awkwardness to reveal deeper feelings of desperation, regret and fear.
Peter, a self-assured Manhattan finance guy, has returned to his blue-collar Rhode Island hometown for the first time in two decades to handle his deceased grandmother’s estate. After misplacing his wallet and the cash he needs to put things in order, he impulsively calls upon his long lost best friend, Donald, for help.
At first, Donald seems like the same loutish if ultimately harmless man-child you might see in a Todd Phillips or Adam McKay movie, complete with a comically horrendous haircut and utter lack of good manners and common decency. But the more Peter is reluctant to ask for his old friend’s assistance, the more we sense the malevolence emerging in Donald. As the two spend the day together, reliving history and drumming up long buried psychological turmoil, the story bypasses its conventional buddy comedy premise and heads toward an almost Lynchian examination of suppressed emotion and environmental turmoil.
Rather than simply give Peter the $100 he needs, Donald takes him on a wild goose chase in search of a cash source, a move that both elucidates his financial desperation—$100 means a lot more to the blue-collar Donald than it does the financially secure Peter—and gradually emerges as a ploy to torture his former friend. The pair revisit old haunts and happen upon former acquaintances, situations that instantly bring back memories and feelings that Peter has desperately tried to forget. His efforts to become a major player on Wall Street had as much to do with personal redemption as professional ambition; he sought to put his hometown and everyone in it as far behind him as possible, and now that his past has successfully caught up with him, he’s isn’t uncomfortable as much as he is horrified. Donald is aware of this and exploits it for a time, embracing the role of Peter’s tormenter and the film’s nominal antagonist, but a justification for his behavior intriguingly complicates this otherwise pat scenario, and Avedisian wisely refuses to draw a line between the “good friend” and the “bad friend.”
Where similar films might seek to derive comedy from Peter and Donald’s polar oppositeness, Donald Cried instead finds profound—and often profoundly dark—humor in how similar they actually are. It’s the kind of realization that comes with confronting life’s most uncomfortable moments, facing certain truths about one’s self and circumstances that exist outside of the narrative we’ve constructed. Those moments are awkward, to be sure, but as the film reveals, they’re also crucial to making sense of our lives. One of the film’s best jokes—a monologue delivered by Donald in medium close-up that cuts to a wide shot and reveals he’s been stark nude throughout—retroactively becomes an apt metaphor for the film’s most prominent theme: There’s always more outside the frame.