Movie Review: ‘Alex & the List’ a Likeable Indie Comedy

Movie Review: ‘Alex & the List’ a Likeable Indie Comedy

On the same night that good-hearted dog trainer Alex (Patrick Fugit, Almost Famous) plans to propose to girlfriend Katherine (Jennifer Morrison) in Alex & The List, she preempts him with a typed-out numbered list of suggestions for how to improve himself.

Get teeth whitened. Improve wardrobe. Take an interest in sports. Convert to Judaism? Sure.

And Alex has to do it all before brother Gary (Ryan O'Nan) gets married so she can show him off to her family.

That seems like an extremely superficial thing to do, and Alex - like the audience - is pretty disappointed when he receives the suggestions.

But because this movie is called Alex & The List, we know that the rest of it will surround Alex completing the items on the titular list. And all it takes is some friendly competition from a Jewish-Italian doctor (Gilles Marini) to set him in motion.

I had little interest in seeing Alex run through this superficial list of improvements. But thanks to two committed lead performances, Alex & The List turns into a surprisingly watchable low-key comedy. Fugit is an engaging presence in the lead, and Morrison’s charismatic turn helps provide some real motivation to help sell the iffy premise.  

A terrific supporting cast really helps. Bob Gunton and JoBeth Williams play Katherine’s parents. Eddie Kaye Thomas is Alex’s friend Dave. Michael Nouri has a scene-stealing role as a Rabbi, who might be a caricature in a lesser film but becomes the spiritual center here. Even Victoria Tennant and Lesley Anne-Down show up in cameos.

But best of all is Karen Gillan (Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy) as Alex’s best friend Lily and Mad Men’s Aaron Staton as her husband Michael. Both get a lot of screen time here, and rise above the familiar best-friend supporting roles with nuanced and likeable characterizations.

Billed as a comedy, Alex & The List rarely becomes anything more than mildly amusing, though it maintains a pleasantly amicable tone throughout. Instead, this is a surprisingly introspective film that takes a high-concept premise and applies more thought to it than expected. 

The movie was directed by Harris Goldberg, who applied the same level of care to the underappreciated 2007 Matthew Perry comedy Numb. It doesn’t have big laughs nor does it go to unexpected places, but it displays real affection for its characters and respect for the decisions they make. Alex & The List has sat on the shelf for more than three years before hitting streaming services this spring, but deserves a better fate.

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