Peter Letang, a well-off New York banker, returns to his small working-class Rhode Island town that he left screaming 20 years ago to settle the affairs of his deceased grandmother. Having lost his wallet on a bus and finding that his friends are unable or unwilling to wire him money, he reluctantly trudges off in the snow toward the home of a childhood friend, Donald. Donald is home and ecstatic about Peter’s return. He’s not about to let him leave so easily.
Thus begins a mash-up of the homecoming, a man-child, and buddy comedies. Donald (as played by director Kris Avedisian), is a creation of comic genius and heartbreaking familiarity. With his mangled mullet, oversized glasses, and predilection for flannel, he looks somewhat like a cross between American Movie’s Mark Borchardt and any random 1970s soft rocker.
Donald encapsulates the eternal stoner who believes junior high was the apex of his existence. Still living in his childhood room in his mom’s attic and working part-time at the local bowling alley, he is thrilled to have his childhood buddy back home. Donald has an open heart, a gregarious way about him, and a serious delusion about his place in the world.
As he works to get Peter the $80 needed for the bus back to NYC, Donald is subjected to humiliation after humiliation that he brushes off with a pained smile and a “They’re just kidding around” attitude that underscores the hilarity of the movie. And there is hilarity. When Donald speaks, he begins with an idea that slowly builds up speed as his enthusiasm kicks in, and he starts free associating with startling effect until you get a torrent of words that leave you breathless with laughter.
For example, Donald imagined Peter’s return would be heralded with Peter riding into town on a motorcycle, with locks of long hair whipping in the wind. This vision somehow morphs into the muscular Peter vanquishing his enemies and having their keepsakes braided into said hair. The enthusiasm that Donald invests in this story is riotous. As Donald winds down, there is a beat as Peter stares at him for a moment and says drily, “This must be disappointing.”
Peter (Jesse Wakeman), by contrast, is tightly wound and reserved and slightly irritated at everything around him. He seems as if he’s under the constant impression that someone just farted and left the room. You match that with Donald’s shaggy puppy enthusiasm and you get a sort of yin-yang of embarrassment.
A perfect example of this is in the deceased grandmother’s nursing home, where Peter discovers that Donald has been pretending to be him for the past six years—Nonna was too far gone to tell the difference. While Donald explains that he knew his behavior was wrong, but it came from the heart, Peter stares straight ahead, mouth twitching ever so slightly until he spastically bolts out of his seat and leaves the room.
The meat of the story is how the relationship between Donald and Peter evolves. At first, Peter is, as most of us would be, somewhat embarrassed by Donald. As the film progresses, Peter notices how the town sees Donald and how he, when he was younger, actively participated in cultivating that viewpoint, and his view softens.
Kudos also to Louisa Krause for an assist. Krause, one of the more interesting young performers around, plays the real estate agent selling Nonna’s house and who always has had a thing for Peter. With a few broad strokes obscuring the subtlety underneath, she essays a straightforward young woman who wants to consummate a high school crush and doesn’t quite get what she bargained for.
All in all, Donald Cried manages to be very funny, very queasy, and deeply, deeply honest. A winner.