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Jess Weixler and Amy Seimetz in Alexander the Last

Alexander the Last

Studio: IFC Films
Directed by Joe Swanberg; Starring: Jess Weixler, Justin Rice, Barlow Jacobs, Amy Seimetz and Jane Adams

Apr 06, 2009 Web Exclusive
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If you can survive the disconcerting first 11 minutes of Joe Swanberg’s fifth feature—which includes a disorienting exchange of wedding vows between two sisters, a title sequence with cloying lo-fi indie music and creepy shots of the film’s cast rubbing pie cream into their faces and hair, and a scene where the sisters cozy up on a bed and squawk baby sounds to each other—then you’ll be rewarded with an intriguing look at how artists struggle to sustain committed relationships, which are complicated by the disciplines that allow performers to share intimate experiences with various collaborators.

Alex (Jess Weixler) is an actress cast in a play that requires her to workshop a choreographed sex scene with couch-hopping new-in-town actor Jamie (Barlow Jacobs). While Alex’s musician husband Elliot (Justin Rice) is away on tour, she invites Jamie to crash at their place after late rehearsals. She also encourages a relationship between Jamie and her sister Hellen (Amy Seimetz), perhaps to keep Jamie within proximity. It’s a recipe for emotional volatility, and Swanberg’s players, particularly Weixler, navigate the turbulence with intelligence, sensitivity and naturalness.

For all the talk about Swanberg’s low-budget approach and his improvised writing and video filming, he demonstrates a keen cinematic sensibility with Alexander the Last. In one extended take, Jamie types on his smartphone in the foreground while Alex, seen only waist down, paces about anxiously until she thrusts her face into frame for attention (or affection) from him. There are also effective uses parallel cutting and sound mixing, and in one non-dialogue shot, Swanberg marvelously conveys a relationship that’s reached a dead end. Alexander the Last would benefit from some of the comic relief that comes from scriptwriting, if only to offset its squirm quotient (the first 11 minutes and a freaky synchronized monologue delivered by the sisters), but Swanberg’s method seems to be working well enough regardless.

Alexander the Last premiered at this year’s SXSW Film Festival and simultaneously became available on-demand through the IFC’s Festival Direct program. Through the SXSW-IFC partnership, a handful of the festival’s films are available on-demand on most major cable systems.

www.ifcfilms.com

Author rating: 6/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10



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jackson
June 22nd 2009
8:57am

This picture represents a huge leap forward for its director..a very nice post Chris.

Marc
July 3rd 2009
9:33am

Thanks for such a detailed review. You’ve very keen observation for the details that should be there, indeed.

Golden Rule
December 14th 2010
3:34pm

I love indie films. There is never any shortage of innovative and interesting cinematic styles.  Don’t get me wrong, major blockbusters have their place in the entertainment world. It just always seems like it’s the low budget guys that always push the envelope. They strive to push against what the viewer thinks a movie should be/look like.  I for one am a fan of Swanberg’s low budget approach. For me, the grittier, the better. Keep the great reviews coming.

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January 10th 2011
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For all the talk about Swanberg’s low-budget approach and his improvised writing and video filming, he demonstrates a keen cinematic sensibility with Alexander the Last. There are also effective uses parallel cutting and sound mixing, and in one non-dialogue shot, Swanberg marvelously conveys a relationship that’s reached a dead end. “Rolex Prices

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June 9th 2011
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They strive to push against what the viewer thinks a movie should be/look like.  I for one am a fan of Swanberg’s low budget approach. For me, the grittier, the better. Keep the great reviews coming.

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November 8th 2011
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Clearly a transitional film for Swanberg, with a more assertive authorial voice on the one hand and more tentative (and unspontaneous) work with professional actors on the other.

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