“Look at me. I want you to fucking respect me.”
Coming back home is hard to do. After the death of his grandmother, however, Peter Latang is forced to do exactly just that when he is pulled away from his life as a Wall Street hotshot and thrown back into his old stomping grounds in working-class Rhode Island. Naturally, things quickly go awry once Peter realizes that he’s accidentally left his wallet back on the bus, leaving the banker financially limp for the entire duration of his short trip. With no family around, he realizes that his only option is to surrender his pride and look to an old friend for help — his neighbor Donald, who seemingly hasn’t changed (or grown up) one bit in 20 years.
While Donald Cried may seem like your typical buddy comedy with all the right, familiar ingredients, there’s more to the film and its central character than meets the eye. Directed, written, and starring Kris Avedisian, Donald Cried is a refreshing, heartfelt addition to a genre that too often seems formulaic, predictable, and quite frankly, overdone. For a crisp 85 minutes, the film follows the two around as Donald exploits Peter’s need for assistance, manipulating his old friend to spend his entire day with him, even if it’s completely against his will.
Despite finding himself having to revisit his roots, Peter (played by Jesse Wakeman) is clearly out of place and extremely uncomfortable in his former environment. He’s outgrown every inch of it, managing to escape the trappings of a small town to build himself a successful life outside of it in the city. His hair is neatly combed, he dresses in Banana Republic like a real adult, and is mature with a capital m. Once he finds Donald, however, Peter realizes that his old pal is stuck in all the ways that he refuses to be. With a shaggy, unkempt mullet, an endearingly goofy smile, and a pair of glasses that are older than he is, Donald is the living, breathing embodiment of a loser, especially next to Peter’s success story. In other words, they two serve as the perfect foils for one another.
With much to take care of as he buries his grandmother, Peter is in town strictly for business, and as he asks Donald for his help, he attempts to keep this a firm deal. Donald, however, refuses to let him off the hook so easily, far too excited by the reappearance of his best friend. He forces himself upon Peter all day long, much to Peter’s discomfort and annoyance. In the middle of every task Peter attempts to check off his list, Donald takes him for a ride down memory lane, forcing him to revisit old friends, none of whom have seemingly moved an inch since Peter left them. Everything is the same, and for Peter, perhaps too uncomfortably so.
It doesn’t help that Donald only brings Peter embarrassment everywhere they go, whether it’s awkwardly running into old crushes at a local diner, a desperate attempt at attaining more money from Donald’s abusive boss at the bowling alley, or revisiting one of their stoner friends who, as it turns out, has anything but resentment towards Peter. As each layer of the onion is peeled back, however, more and more is revealed about Peter and Donald’s friendship, illuminating all the details of their former bond and what ultimately forced them apart.
While Donald may seem extremely obnoxious, overbearing, and difficult to shake off, Avedisian plays him with such charm and empathy that one can’t help but feel intrigued by what he’s all about, of all what lies beneath his childlike demeanor. Despite his laundry list of flaws, Donald is no asshole. What keeps one glued to awaiting his every antic is his kindness, compassion, and ability to see the best in people, even as Peter is clearly only using him, all while trying to pry himself away from him in every moment. Donald may be a dork who has no financial security, still lives with his parents, got stuck in his adolescence, and is everything Peter isn’t, but one thing’s for sure — he is a genuinely good person, only desperate for the approval of an old friend who doesn’t even deserve it.
From Big, The 40-Year Old Virgin, Napoleon Dynamite, The Hangover, to virtually every single Adam Sandler picture, nobody is a stranger to the all-too familiar man-child trope. However, the warmth and sincerity Avedisian has so thoughtfully fostered in Donald Cried is exactly what sets it apart from the rest in its genre. Ultimately, Donald Cried is equal parts laughs and equal parts heart, making for an understated, yet extremely enjoyable debut that is as funny as it is touching.