Writer director Jesse Zwick’s first feature film “About Alex” premiered at Tribeca Film Festival. It’s reminiscent of 1983’s “The Big Chill,” but for the Facebook and Twitter generation. After Alex (Jason Ritter) attempts suicide, his college friends reunite for a long weekend. Ritter (“Parenthood”) is the son of the late actor John Ritter, who was best known for his starring role in the sitcom “Three’s Company.”
Zwick cast his film with an ensemble of successful sitcom actors including Maggie Grace (“Susanna” and “Californication”), Max Greenfield (“New Girl”), Max Minghella (“The Mindy Project”), Jane Levy (“Suburgatory”), Aubrey Plaza (“Parks and Recreation”) and Nate Parker.
I enjoyed getting to know Ritter and some of these cast members last week at a sit-down in The Carlton Hotel on Madison Avenue.
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Dorri Olds: How is this generation of characters different than those in “The Big Chill”?
Jason Ritter: Our characters interact with each other completely differently, the way we keep tabs on each other and imagine we’re connected to each other. You can have a false sense of being in communication with someone. In “The Big Chill,” friends of Kevin Costner’s dead character hadn’t heard from him in a long time. All of the people in our film followed my character on Twitter. They imagined that we had this relationship and that they knew that I was OK. Then in hindsight they could see there were warning signs. My generation can lull ourselves into believing this false sense of connectivity.
Max Greenfield: Jesse wrote the script about people he knew and things he’d experienced. It would’ve been scarier if he’d said, “I want to make a movie like ‘The Big Chill’ but just add cellphones and social media.” I like that he made it personal.
Nate Parker: There’s so many things to do and see and so little time. The trick for our generation is if you feel like you don’t do it all, you’ll miss something. Whereas in the ’80s you had to be present because you couldn’t be anywhere else. I can Skype seven people in seven countries at the same time and I feel like I need to. Like if I don’t I could miss something that is vital to success, and what’s cool now could be poison tomorrow.
Do you feel that every generation thinks, “Oh no, what is happening to our society?”
Maggie Grace: To hell in a hand basket!
Nate Parker: It’s hard to figure out what is a fad and what is a cultural change, what is here today and will be gone tomorrow.
Maggie Grace: The film isn’t passing a judgment about technology or social media; it’s just raising questions. All this stuff is incredibly new and we’re at the very beginning of the evolution. It’s not like we should be social luddites and just sit around in a wood cabin and whittle. But I think we’re still exploring how technology can work well with human nature. How can we connect in a way that we really feel intimacy?
Jason, how were you feeling on the day you filmed Alex’s suicide attempt?
Jason Ritter: That was a really interesting day. Everyone was quiet and I hadn’t slept for a couple of days.
Yeah, I wanted to be exhausted and calm. It wasn’t a suicide in a fit of passion. It was a quiet, thought out and deliberate suicide. He’d been thinking about it for a while. He puts this thing in his pocket, dresses up in a suit, and gets into the bathtub in all of his clothes. That was how it had been written. There was something about it that I really understood. When you find out later what led to it, and what he was thinking about at the time, it colors it differently. But, yeah, it was an intense shoot. It was heavy. I’ve had friends who had attempted suicide. Luckily none of them have been successful. It’s a really intense thing to think about that a human being can think suicide is the best option. Sadly, they usually feel likes it’s the best option for everybody else.
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When people you knew did that, were you angry they put you in that position?
Oh yeah. It’s an interesting thing. One of the reasons I wanted to do this is it’s so real. He’s [points to Max Greenfield] furious at my character and furious at himself. It sends everyone into a panic. There’s guilt. Feelings that I should’ve seen this coming. And yes, anger that they would put all of the people they claimed to love through grief and guilt.
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