Hard swings between pity and exasperation form the backbone of writer/director/star Kris Avedisian's "Donald Cried," a queasy indie comedy about a boyhood friendship that is cringey and disaster-prone when haphazardly dredged up again 20 years later.
On a trip back to the snow-covered, lower middle class Rhode Island neighborhood he escaped from after high school, Wall Street financier Peter (Jesse Wakeman) hopes to quickly deal with his deceased grandmother's effects and skedaddle. Losing his wallet, though, strands him, and to get quick help, Peter hesitantly re-engages with childhood bestie Donald (Avedisian), a shabby oddball still living with his mother, and a little too excited about reconnecting with his old partner in adolescent hijinks.
Dragged into insipid remembrances and embarrassing situations, Peter is driven around in a mini-van by the boundary-challenged, unfiltered Donald on a forced tour of a bond about which Peter clearly feels shame. (This is one of those movies in which the occasional unsteady handheld visuals ideally mirror the general nausea.) The pair are destined to confront their unequal life paths in the most squirm-inducing way, but Avedisian, who plays his overbearing character with aggressive ebullience, keeps this 24-hour descent into reunion hell from ever being a full-tilt humiliation fest.
Touches of empathy and self-awareness invariably crystallize the unsettling emotions of revisiting one's past life, as when Peter blurts out, at his most trapped, "I don't like how I feel when I come back here!" Simultaneously tense, funny and melancholic, "Donald Cried" could almost be called "Man-Child by the Sea."
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: Landmark NuArt, West L.A.