For weeks now I’ve been getting emails with the subject line “DONALD CRIED” and opening them to find out that, alas, they aren’t about our new president finally showing some humility. Donald, in this case, is the lead character of a new movie backed by the producers of Eastbound and Down and Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture.
Yesterday, the film’s stars and co-writers Kris Avedisian (also the director) and Jesse Wakeman discussed Donald Cried after a preview screening at Wythe Hotel’s basement cinema (it opens March 3 at Angelika). Avedisian plays the titular character, a metal stoner and victim of arrested development whose bad haircut, outdated glasses, and naivete bring to mind Mark Borchardt of American Movie.
When Donald gets an unexpected visit from his childhood buddy Peter, his life as a townie in snowbound Warwick, Rhode Island suddenly perks up. Nevermind that Peter, a depressive banker from New York who has nothing but scorn for his hometown, is only hanging out with Donald because he lost his wallet and needs some money and maybe a lift to gather his deceased aunt’s remains.
The dynamic at work here is very much like the one in Mike White’s Chuck and Buck, where a man-child tried desperately to reconnect with his reluctant friend. The first version of Donald Cried—a 17-minute short—was released in 2012, more than a decade after Chuck and Buck.
The homosexual undercurrent isn’t as obvious in Donald Cried, though there are hints of it: Peter is embarrassed that he once wore eyeliner and no longer feels comfortable shot-gunning Donald’s weed smoke at their secret rendez-vous. But it’s unclear if their relationship ever got more intimate than that: Avedisian said he wanted to “paint the picture of who these guys were without being super explicit about it.”
In the end, however, it turns out that the most unspeakable thing Peter did with Donald is a prank that he pulled when he forced him to drink pee. Last night, Wakeman revealed that Avedisian “had a piss-in-the-bottle story— so that really happened.”
For better or worse, Avedisian didn’t reveal what that story was, but he confessed that Donald is “not far from who I am.”
The setting is also close to home, since Avedisian lives near Warwick, where the film was shot. “The winters are super depressing,” he said of the Rhode Island town. The grey skies and massive snow piles that abound as Donald drags Peter from one location to the other in his mom’s minivan were crucial to establishing that sense of being trapped in small-town life— “just because you have nowhere to go,” Avedisian said.
Shooting in the director’s hometown also had its benefits— his wife and daughter have a cameo in a diner scene, and a pivotal moment that takes place at a cancer benefit was filmed at an actual cancer benefit.
In the end, Donald Cried has nothing at all to do with Donald Trump, though one could argue that the divide between urban, cynical Peter and small-town, gullible Donald is the divide between Clinton and Trump voters (Warwick was split pretty much half and half between the two). Donald does show a disturbing amount of forgiveness to his brutish, authoritarian, homophobic step dad. And the film does alternate between comedy and cringe, just like Trump’s campaign did.
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to correct the release dates of the short and the feature. A promotional photo was also removed because it was not intended for publication.