Last night, I watched Donald Cried, a new dark comedy starring, written, and directed by Kristopher Avedisian. After the movie came to a fitting and awkward finish, I sat on the couch, stunned. My brain needed silence to digest the interesting work of art I had just powered through. I had no idea how I was going to frame this review, because the movie hit so many raw cords in my psyche that I didn’t know what to think.
I certainly know what I felt watching the movie, and it was a freakish roller coaster ride of disgust, mirth, frustration, amusement, pity, and anger. I felt quite a bit of pity for the main character, Donald. He’s that perfectly obtuse human being who lacks all social graces and who you hope your well-meaning friends never bring to a party. We have all encountered a Donald in our lives. Some of you may know one intimately and call him/her friend. That’s because you have the compassion to see the human soul within the horrible manners and desperate attention-seeking behaviors. And that’s what this difficult film forces the viewer to confront: the broken and lovely humanity inside the Donalds of this world. This makes Donald Cried brilliant and it gets major kudos from me.
Let me explain my perspective a bit as it gives the film credit. Extremely awkward dudes are the bane of my social existence. When a guy like Donald who has no personal boundaries or social filters, sets his eyes on you as a romantic conquest, the party goes downhill. It’s not easy to gently reject an emotionally fragile person in a social situation. I’ve had two particularly bad experiences in my day and most of us have at least witnessed a similar situation. Donald’s character is really that “bad”, and the film pulls this off beautifully.
The story starts bluntly, with one of two central characters, Peter, played stiffly by Jesse Wakeman. Peter has returned to his childhood small town to settle the affairs for his recently deceased grandmother. He loses his wallet and finds himself stranded with no money or means of getting home. Peter happens to run into Donald, a childhood friend and the only person willing to help him. Donald instantly displays maniacal hero-worship for the estranged Peter and begins to manipulate the situation to extend Peter’s stay. From here on out, the two engage in a hilarious and heart-breaking rekindling of a friendship long lost.
It’s interesting that Donald has no true character arch. He is what he is, and at this point in his adult life, self-improvement would require resources and support that just don’t exist in his world. He is the epitome of arrested development, and the film explores the reasons why. Peter, who indeed learns some deep lessons in this story, offers Donald the best days of his life, by just being present, patient, and kind. He bears witness to the source of Donald’s insecurities and comes to realize that he may have played a pivotal part in the social crippling of an innocent and broken boy. It’s a jagged pill to swallow and a painful lesson in compassion and dignity for Peter.
Avedisian is perfect as Donald and pulls off the role brilliantly. His performance smacks with the anxious loneliness and omnipresent demand for approval that motivates his character. It’s brutal to watch and even more painful to think about the hurt that Donald carries around in his heart. I can imagine that a lot of people are going to giggle nervously more than out of mirth as they watch. Although many scenes are genuinely funny, a lot of them are just sad. Donald isn’t an endearing Napoleon Dynamite kind of misfit, and he doesn’t get any sort of sweet redeeming moment to shine. Despite this, you really start to feel sorry for Donald as you learn more about his small world and stunted potential. This made the movie very hard to watch, but also hypnotic and poetic. It asks you for your compassion and for your forgiveness of a Donald’s unpolished approach. And just like Peter, we are coerced into acknowledging the humanity and profundity of the goofy soul that society would prefer to dismiss as the definition of a loser.
As the movie rolls along and you become familiar with Donald’s screwball behavior, it begins to create a sense of tension. The film sets this up nicely, allowing Peter moments to feel like he is free of Donald, or is he? It made me uncomfortable to anticipate how Donald would behave around women, especially after they introduce a love interest for Peter. Thankfully Avedisian avoids letting his film get into truly unsettling territory by keeping Donald obsessively focused on Peter, acting more as a cock-blocker, than a predatory creep. I admit to a bit of relief over this choice.
Poignant and funny, this film may not make your day, but it makes you think and laugh. It reminds you to be patient and kind to the goofy folks who ride the fringes of society. You never know what kind of hell they’ve survived and/or are currently dealing with. Nobody wants to be an outcast, they just want a friend. As a solid piece of cinema, it is brilliant, even if it has a niche audience. I am truly curious as to what Avedisian does next, because as a warm up film, this shows us enormous potential and a nuance understanding of human nature. Well done!
Thanks for reading,
The Diva Del Mar