Director: Kris Avedisian
Year of release: 2017
Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Kris Avedisian's debut feature, Donald Cried, is at first glance, a cringe-comedy about two estranged friends being thrown together under unlikely circumstances. Though it begins with the typical trope of the straight-laced guy returning to the bleak Northeastern town where he grew up and running into the former best friend who still acts and dresses like a teenager, Avedisian's film slowly reveals layers over the course of its brisk 85 minutes. Peter (Jesse Wakeman) is the kind of financially successful bore who has become disconnected from his past, only forced to return to his roots after the death of his grandmother, while Donald (Avedisian) seems like a caricature of arrested development. Though there's a lot of uncomfortable humor on display; the film's real strength is it's unwillingness to dip into broad farce, instead developing into something more downbeat and realistic.
Unfolding over the course of 24 hours where the two old friends share passive-aggressive interactions, dig up old memories, indulge in some cringe-worthy social foibles, and more or less become more intimately acquainted, Donald Cried ultimately becomes a moving portrait of aging and the inability to move beyond one's formative years. Initially, the film looks like it could be leaning too hard on Donald's loopy appearance (oversized glasses, corny T-shirts, terrible haircut) and social awkwardness to elicit sub-Napoleon Dynamite vibes, but Avedisian is more interested in the emotional psychology of his characters than in parading quirkiness for its own sake. Best of all, there's a genuine sense the filmmaker feels empathy for both characters here while also never letting them off the hook for their questionable behavior.
Donald Cried is a small film, but not necessarily a slight one. The act of awkwardly reuniting with someone from your past, which can inevitably bring up emotions of guilt, shame, and regret, is something most can understand, even as the character of Donald (played with dopey relish and legitimate sadness by the director) is not a person most would choose to spend any quality time with. However, being the audience surrogate, Peter is also revealed to be an even more self-delusional and overbearing personality, which complicates our feelings toward the two character's dynamic throughout. In a lesser film, things would devolve into melodramatic hysterics or goofy slapstick. Donald Cried, however, has the humorous sting of real life.