The Suicide of James Rider (United States, 1 hr 47 min)
Directed by: Fred Zara
Written by: Fred Zara
How do you remember someone who takes his own life? That’s the question a small group of friends have to confront after the recent death of their free-spirited close friend James Rider—the heart and soul of the group—who abruptly took his own life at the age of 28. Can they just think fondly about all the things that made James worth remembering, or will the stain of suicide forever overshadow his legacy? Set in the summer of 2001, The Suicide of James Rider, follows the coming-of-age journey of Richie Russo, the newest member of this circle of friends. Despite having never met James himself, Richie gets to know him in a real and intimate way through all the wild, hilarious, and poignant stories told by the friends James left behind. Soon, Richie’s idea of what it means to be alive is slowly transformed—ironically, by someone he will never actually meet in life.
Review:The film is unique in a way that slowly draws its audience into a very ordinary, yet original storytelling. It is a story about James’ closest friends and how they deal with their grief. From the point of view of Bobby’s (Zach Lane) younger brother, Richie (Andrew Romano), the audience experiences a journey about the meaning and appreciation of life, and how one decides to live their own. It is a brilliant message that millennials can relate to: Worrying about careers, not knowing what you want to do, following societal norms and not choosing to do what makes you happy.
Richie, raised in New Jersey, decides to move in with his brother, Bobby, in Florida. Automatically, the audience sees a difference in lifestyle. Sharing a house with four other carefree, hippy-type individuals, Richie struggles to fit in. Being a responsible adult and working a full-time job, Richie struggles to understand the more artistic, less ambitious people he lives with.
The story is full of metaphors and dialogue about overthinking life decisions, learning to relax, and letting go of things one cannot control. With a few witty comments and rhetorical questions, the story develops into an inspiring message of there not being a wrong or right way to live life.
The highlight of the film is the relationship between Richie and Lexi (Kelly Diegnan). With Lexi being the one most affected by James’s death, she serves as Richie’s guide into the lifestyle he moves into. Their relationship relays the exploration of understanding James as an individual and honoring him at the same time. Their difference in opinion is what drives the story forward.
Besides the brilliant writing, what makes the story powerful is the performance. The deliverance of the dialogue and the comical moments are natural, which draws its audience into the characters. With a production that relies as much on the characters as it does on the dialogue, the film is very successful in being highly selective with its scenes and its significance, to capture the important message of honoring a loved one who impacted many lives.