A Journey Back in Time
With his grandmother died suddenly, Peter Latang returned to his hometown and there found his long lost, childhood friend, Donald Treebeck. Director Kris Avedisian’s story is an awkward reunion between two long-estranged friends that unearths a complex mix of guilt and shame in the one responsible for the estrangement.
When Peter (Jesse Wakeman) goes back to the industrial Northeastern town where he grew up for the first time in 20 years, he finds himself broke and without a rid and so he reluctantly turns his former best friend, Donald (Avedisian), an overgrown boy with no boundaries, for help. Donald is too happy to see Peter after years of trying to find him online and quickly offers to drive him everywhere but where he wants to go. Over the 24 or so hours that Donald and Peter spend together, as Peter both softens toward and gets infuriated by his old friend as Donald flip-flops between passive-aggressive violence and cringing compliance. The balance of power between the two keeps shifting back and forth giving viewers a sense of suspense that sometimes borders on mental and dangerous instability.
Peter gains an understanding of and sympathy for his old friend and is forced him to come to terms with the in the past. Slowly the encounters between the two men create a hard-earned intimacy that brings out the best in them both as they reconnect and share confidences.
There is plenty dark humor in this uncomfortable comedy Peter is a Manhattan banker whose job settling his grandmother’s estate is complicated by the loss of his wallet and then by a meeting with neighbor and former best friend Donald who refuses to leaves him alone. We see awkward exchanges, absurd encounters, and we sense bitterness and shame.
After briefly meeting with Kristen (Louisa Krause), the realtor he hired to sell his grandmother’s house (and on whom he harbors a decades-old crush on, despite pretending not to remember her), Peter turns to the only place he can for help with his daily tasks: Donald. This decision results in an immediately warm embrace from his old friend, a simple-minded fool with a shaggy beard and shaggier mullet whose life seems to be frozen-in-time.
Peter and Donald were partners until Peter, for ill-defined reasons, rejected his former life, cleaned himself up, and transformed into a high-finance snob. Donald also agrees to lend Peter some cash and we soon realize that there is a catch to the good that Donald does. Donald proceeds to force his friend — often against his will — to spend the day with him and what follows are embarrassments including a breakfast during which a run-in with a classmate quickly that becomes uneasy; a visit to Donald’s demeaning bowling-alley boss (Ted Arcidi); a meeting with a monotone buddy who doesn’t remember Peter fondly and then a journey to their abandoned-train-tunnel hangout spot, where they smoke weed, point an unloaded gun at each other, and reminisce about a time that was.
Throughout, Donald’s smiles and over-enthusiastic hugs show us his urgent longing to reconnect with Peter. Yet there is anger, frustration and hurt just beneath their under-control exteriors. In virtually every closeup, “Donald Cried” we sense suppressed emotion.
Donald is desperate for the approval of Peter who abandoned him for Wall Street pastures. As Donald, Avedisian has a sense of strangeness that he’s difficult to resist. Peter’s own messy feelings about a former self, and upbringing becomes the foil for Donald’s consistently sad, bizarre attempts to recapture a past that, on the face of it, doesn’t seem to have been that great in the first place.
The film keeps the viewer off-balance trying to figure out the dynamics of the relationship. Peter’s inconsistent responses to Donald move between affection, indulgence, irritation and anger and suggest an underlying guilt over having rejected his former friend so completely.
There are some awkward moments of discomfort here. Donald talks about how he fantasized about Peter as a rebel biker yet he comments on how his friend rather resembles a Jewish witch. With some minor secrets being revealed, we eventually realize that is Peter and not Donald who is the more emotionally stunted character. Both men are worthy of equal measures of pity and disdain but not anything more than that. We are once again reminded that like Thomas Wolfe stated, you can’t go home again.