“Donald Cried” expands upon the Thomas Wolfe claim that you can’t go home again, adding: You probably don’t want to, and maybe it’s best for all concerned if you don’t.
Certainly, the latter sentiments apply to Peter Letang (Jesse Wakeman), a Manhattan banker who returns to his Rhode Island hometown, 20 years removed, to settle the estate of his grandmother — apparently the woman who raised him.
He plans to be in and out in a day but loses his wallet and finds himself stranded, a Crusoe on the desert island of the misbegotten teen past he wants desperately to forget. And here comes his man Friday, in the person of Donald (Kris Avedisian), his former best friend. He’s 20 years older but apparently the same person — same mullet, aviator frames, with a taste for pornography and metal music.
“Donald Cried” is a three-character piece. There is Peter, there is Donald, and there is Warwick, R.I., deep in snow, frozen, much as Donald iced over sometime in 1997. He still works in the same bowling alley (and Warwick still has one), which becomes part of the forced march of nostalgia to which he subjects Peter. This includes a hapless reunion with a mutual purported friend and a stop by “the spot” — I guess there’s one in every town. Rope swing, stream with junk in it, abandoned industrial building where you peel back a bent metal door and hunker down on seedy chairs in a half-baked clubhouse.
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The movie finds deeply uncomfortable laughs in the tensions beneath the surface of the stilted bonhomie between the former friends — deep down, Donald is hurt at being abandoned, and the “good-times” tour has a taste of aggression. A football game in the snow is amusingly fraught with hostility.
Much of the movie’s can’t-look-away appeal rides on Avedisian’s impressively detailed, internalized portrait of left-behind Donald — he wrote the character, directed himself and raised the $150,000 it took to make the movie (it’s his first and only credit). On top of that, he has managed to create the sort of stunted and unsuccessful male adult we see in Judd Apatow movies, only this one is more real, more sad.
The cramped road-movie plot doesn’t go very far, but it does dole out a few facts that produce empathy for poor Donald, despite the increasingly (it’s almost a horror movie) alarming nature of his clingy attitude toward Peter.
It’s painfully funny, though many will find it more painful than funny. Still, at 85 minutes, it doesn’t (like Peter) overstay its welcome, and may arrive at an opportune moment — in these times of big-city/small-town, white-collar/blue-collar tensions, the tentative rapprochement between Donald and Peter holds promise for us all.
(At Screenland Armour.)
Not rated. Time: 1:25.