There’s a line at the end of a Chekhov play that goes, “Life’s gone on as if I’d never lived.” This does a passable job summarizing Chris Messina’s Alex of Venice, a trifling yet nonetheless poignant snapshot of a young woman trying to come to terms with both immediate personal crises and the dawning knowledge that — to paraphrase Trip Harrison from Meatballs — maybe it all just doesn’t matter.
An “overworked environmental lawyer” (like there’s any other kind these days), Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is not only attempting to stop a new hotel development in Southern California’s vanishing wetlands (like there’s any other kind these days), but also dealing with the burden of being the only remotely competent adult in a collection of giant children.
Live-at-home dad Roger (Don Johnson) is an undependable former TV star, while sister Lily (Katie Nehra) provides a flibbertigibbet yin to Alex’s workaholic yang. And then there’s George (Messina), her man-baby of a husband, who abandons the family to find himself and/or get some space, man.
Messina, making his directorial debut, keeps it simple. Alex undergoes a surprising amount of personal maturation in a week, but Winstead never lets the character bog down in excessive navel-gazing. She’s abetted by Johnson, enjoying a nice run with this and Cold in July, and Derek Luke as a deceptively charming enemy real estate developer.
Mostly, though, Alex of Venice succeeds because Messina, to use the locally appropriate parlance, doesn’t “get worked” by weightier issues. Alex is able to balance trying to make a better world for her child while still finally realizing self-sacrifice isn’t everything. Not all that profound, perhaps, but still pretty gnarly.