The former high school buddies who become reacquainted in “Donald Cried” do so under awkward circumstances. Then again, just about everything that happens in this low-budget comic drama is awkward. The movie is so fixated on embarrassing legacies that it ends with a Milli Vanilli song.
Peter (Jesse Wakeman) returns to his snowy Rhode Island home town with two goals: settling the affairs of his recently deceased grandmother and avoiding Donald (Kristopher Avedisian, the movie’s director). The two were metalhead best friends some 25 years ago, but Peter has grown up and gotten a Manhattan job he vaguely describes as being “in finance.” He suspects, rightly, that Donald has not changed.
Forcing the two together is essential to the script, which was written by Avedisian (from a story conceived by Wakeman and Kyle Espeleta, who also has a small part). The device that facilitates the reunion is a missing wallet: Peter finds himself without cash and credit cards and turns to Donald for a loan. He doesn’t get much money, because the shaggy-haired slacker doesn’t have much. What Donald does have plenty of is free time to spend with his onetime pal.
Peter has grown-up things to do, such as collecting his grandmother’s ashes and beginning the process of selling her house. Donald is happy — nearly delirious, in fact — to play chauffeur. But he insists on side trips to see old friends, visit storied haunts, play football, throw snowballs and get stoned.
Peter tries to avoid these detours, and not just because he has appointments to honor. He also doesn’t want to confront the memories of his own adolescent misdeeds, notably the one that made Donald cry. One other hazard to dodge: regressing to the teenage self who might actually bond with a guy who still lives at home, works in a bowling alley and sleeps under an autographed poster of a naked porn star.
That development is inevitable, although the movie does muster a few nifty surprises on its way to Peter’s ultimate surrender. There’s a bizarre revelation at a nursing home and an abortive hookup with a high school crush (Louisa Krause) at a highly inappropriate venue.
“Donald Cried” takes a purely functional approach to storytelling. Ted Arcidi has an outrageous turn as Donald’s belligerent boss, but the focus is on Wakeman and Avedisian’s unwavering performances. These are encapsulated in a scene where the two men pose for a photo: Donald is as frisky as a puppy, while Peter has a forced smile and one eye on the door.
Viewers may identify with him. “Donald Cried” succeeds on its own modest terms, but watching its title character can be painful. This is not a movie for people who’d just as soon forget their own teenage mortifications.
Unrated. At the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market. Contains obscenity, nudity, a sexual situation and drug use. 85 minutes.