Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 18, 2019)
A coming of age tale, 2018’s No Alternative takes us back to the “Grunge Rock” 1990s. Teenaged Thomas Harrison (Conor Proft) loves Nirvana and after the death of Kurt Cobain, he plays in a rock band.
While Thomas pursues his own music, younger sister Bridget (Michaela Cavazos) decides to create and play rap songs, albeit with an odd angle: she performs lyrics from the POV of a black man. Both work on their material while they go through plenty of other personal complications.
Writer/director William Dickerson based the film on his novel of the same name, and the story clearly uses autobiographical notions. In particular, Bridget acts as a doppelganger of Dickerson’s late sister Briana.
While I appreciate what the project must mean to Dickerson, he doesn’t manage to create a compelling film. It comes as no surprise that Alternative adapts a novel, as the movie’s screenplay packs in too much material for its running time and often feels like an abbreviated version of a more detailed source.
If Dickerson just made this about the two teens’ musical pursuits, it could’ve worked within the 97 minutes it gets. However, the choice to expand into so many other personal areas means the end result can’t flesh out the characters or their issues well.
What issues? Thomas deals with the pressures of college applications and fears about his future, while he also struggles with a nascent romantic relationship.
In addition, we learn that Bridget suffers from an abundance of mental health issues. She engages in her own boyfriend situation, one impacted by her apparent decline.
Oh, and their father (Harry Hamlin) works as a judge, one with political aspirations. He becomes a figure of controversy when he grants bail to a woman who then kills some people.
After this, Judge Harrison brings a handgun into the house. You don’t have to be Anton Chekhov to see where that’ll go.
That’s part of the issue here: in addition to the “overstuffed” nature of Alternative, too many plot points seem telegraphed. Others go by the wayside completely and lack the follow through they need to succeed.
All of this leads us to a sketchy movie that often collapses into cheap melodrama. Alternative comes with too much narrative for its length and the exposition and evolution falter.