This time around, though, his low-key casting has a purpose.
“Alex of Venice” marks the hard-working actor’s directorial debut. The feature brims with what’s best about Messina’s character studies. It’s intimate, detailed and quietly moving.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is “Alex,” an environmental attorney so buried in work she doesn’t see her marriage collapsing. So when George (Messina) announces he’s had enough it crushes her finely tuned schedule.
She’s forced to rely on her erratic father (Don Johnson) to help care for her son while continuing her manic work schedule.
Alex’s sister (co-screenwriter Katie Nehra) offers to help with dubious results. Things grow more complicated when Alex begins a romance with a developer (Derek Luke) she’s battling at work.
Parents will applaud how “Alex” details the delicate ecosystem of a marriage, and just what happens when one partner exits, stage right. It’s equally measured in how it handles Johnson’s character, an aging star grappling with a serious medical condition. It’s Johnson’s best work in years.
“Alex of Venice” offers a rare exchange mid-film, the kind typically avoided by movies dabbling in the ideological trenches. Alex takes Luke’s character to task for pushing aside environmental concerns for what she assumes is a cash grab. He gently fires back, describing how his project will give jobs to people who might not work otherwise.
It’s a flirtatious debate, first and foremost. Still, it refuses to demonize business as many movies lazily do.
“Alex of Venice” doesn’t have any “big” moments or breakthroughs packed in its efficient running time. Ultimately, it’s about change, and how even smart people can be walloped by it.
Messina appears to be handling the change to his own career just fine.