Making its simultaneous, landmark premiere at the SXSW Film Festival and on IFC Festival Direct VOD, Joe Swanberg’s Alexander the Last proves ultra low-budget indie fare can be just as engaging, and humdrum, as any other independent stalwart making large amounts of dough at the box office (i.e., Juno). Alex (Jess Weixler) and Elliot (Justin Rice)—one an actress, the other a musician—only have love on their mind; they’re newlyweds and quite young. Soon, Elliot embarks on a tour with his bandmate, leaving Alex alone in their Brooklyn apartment with no one in bed with which to spoon. In one of those off-off-Broadway productions no one ever sees, Alex is paired off with Jamie (Barlow Jacobs) during the audition process, both eventually landing the lead roles opposite each other. Now in need a place to stay, Alex takes Jamie in and sets him up on the couch—with Elliot’s approval, of course. And while Elliot is off playing his indie music around the country, Alex seems to gradually fall for her new leading man.
Part of that restless, productive team of mumblecore savants, Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs) allows his actors to do what they do best: act. Capturing every waking moment with his HD handicam, Swanberg hovers over these characters with an ever-probing eye, emphasizing the most harmless downward inch of Alex’s mouth as telling regret. Weixler, also known as the breakout star from past Sundance-fave Teeth, exhibits controlled exuberance and sadness as she dips into the role of Alex, placating her husband as well as juggling newfound feelings for Jamie. Also, Jane Adams and Josh Hamilton make winning turns as theater directors, affording Alex and Jamie an exceptional amount of make-out time during rehearsals.
As a qualified ode to the improvisational talkfests of Richard Linklater and the damning-relationship drama of Neil LaBute, Swanberg’s film never truly elaborates on its reference points, providing a conspicuously familiar sketch of a dwindling couple. In its most honest light, though, Alexander subtly pulls at the layers of an immature marriage, letting the heartache slowly burn away.