The obliviously obnoxious man-child has become such a familiar comic figure that creating anything innovative along those lines is now a real challenge. Donald Cried, the first feature written and directed by Kris Avedisian, deserves credit for making an effort to do something marginally different with its central doofus. Avedisian also plays the title role, and initially seems to be aiming strictly for laughs: Donald sports a terrible haircut, wears unfashionable glasses, speaks in a nerdy bray, and demonstrates virtually no understanding of basic social skills. Unlike the various Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler characters he superficially resembles, however, this emotionally stunted loser is meant to inspire a certain degree of pathos, as the film’s title suggests. The film’s gradual shift from broad yuk-fest toward something closer to indie drama (while still striving to be funny) isn’t wholly successful; it’s difficult to achieve the catharsis of, say, Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy when you start out like Napoleon Dynamite. But at least Avedisian tried.
Like so many indie movies these days, Donald Cried was expanded from a short film, and the short’s very economical setup has apparently been transferred intact to the feature version. Returning to his Rhode Island hometown to settle his late grandmother’s estate, Peter (Jesse Wakeman) immediately realizes that he left his wallet on the bus he took from New York. Unable to rent a car without cash or credit cards, and knowing nobody else in the area, he has no choice but to seek help from Donald, who lives across the street from his grandma’s house and had been his best friend in high school, when they were both metalhead stoners. Peter, however, has since become a respectable banker, while Donald, who still lives with his mother, doesn’t seem to have changed an iota. So begins a battle of wills in which an overjoyed Donald tries to rekindle their friendship while Peter struggles to extricate himself from one mortifying situation after another, even as he relies on Donald as a chauffeur.
As a director, Avedisian’s approach is mostly functional, though he occasionally uses framing to good comic effect—a big speech that Donald delivers in medium close-up becomes retroactively funnier when a cut to a wide shot belatedly reveals that he’s been standing there stark naked the entire time. There are also a few wonderfully cringeworthy moments, as when Donald, watching Peter throw a handful of his grandmother’s ashes into the sea, asks “Can I do one?” (Hard to think of a more appalling way to phrase that request.) But the man-child/straight man dynamic feels secondhand until fairly late in the going, when Peter, not long after having finally thawed a bit, abruptly ditches Donald to pursue a romantic opportunity with his real-estate agent (Louisa Krause, who’s consistently a joy in tiny parts like this one). The emotions this betrayal inspires are raw enough, on all sides, to make one wish the movie as a whole were less cartoonish and more nuanced, so that its finest moments wouldn’t feel quite so out of place.