Dozens of films have been directly or indirectly inspired by The Big Chill since its 1983 release, but Jesse Zwick’s About Alex is the first that could arguably qualify as a remake of the landmark “quarter-life crisis” drama. “Update” is perhaps a better term, as the film works hard to posit itself as a piece both for and about the millennial generation, and the similarities in basic plot setup only highlight what differentiates Zwick’s band of miserable post-collegiates from Lawrence Kasdan’s baby boomers. Still, a sense of déjà vu permeates About Alex: Like The Big Chill, it opens with a young man named Alex slitting his wrists in the bathtub of an isolated country house—a house in which his college friends will soon reconvene for a weekend of nostalgia and existential crisis. One crucial difference: Zwick’s Alex, played by Jason Ritter, survives the attempt, and his mopey, alternately ghost-like and childlike presence in the house for the remainder of the film is one of several factors that make About Alex very much its own film, a specific, if not particularly memorable, study of late twentysomethings and their relationships and anxieties.
From the onset, technology is heavily implicated in the group’s dynamic: Alex’s “suicide note” takes the form of a single Shakespeare-quoting tweet, while his friends’ in-person reunion prompts a recognizable debate over social media and the false intimacy it provides. Details like these only amount to window dressing, though, as About Alex is ultimately most concerned with pairing every character up with every other character, randomly and by rote. Everyone is in love with everyone in this house (in a purely heterosexual way, of course), but it’s the kind of love that’s too-explicitly stated, often in moonish banalities like “Whatever happened to us?” About Alex is a familiar routine of smart people making stupid decisions during a period of crisis, and at least it owns up to the clichés it propagates: Sarah (Aubrey Plaza), the sharp and nurturing single gal who often functions as an audience surrogate, at one point declares, “I’m sorry, but you know what this is like? This is like one of those 80s movies!” That is, in fact, exactly what About Alex is like, but recognizing the problem isn’t the same thing as fixing it, and however self-aware About Alex may be, its characters and moods and conflicts are too over-determined and familiar to linger in the memory very long after the credits roll.