By Owen Gleiberman
Updated March 11, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

Alexander the Last is the latest shot-on- camcorder, actual-cramped-apartment-as-movie-set, semi-improvisatory romantic roundelay from director Joe Swanberg. Like his other films (Hannah Takes the Stairs, LOL), it’s set in the demimonde of twentysomething bohemia, and so I expected it to be a comedy of smarty-pants dithering. A study in ironic manners. Another mumblecore movie. But Alexander the Last is better than that — fresher, deeper, and more mysterious. (It’s also more available, thanks to a video-on-demand release.) For the first time, the lo-fi purity of Swanberg’s style is a conduit to something that transcends youth.

Jess Weixler, with her gorgeous smushed-in face, is Alex, an aspiring actress with a crush on Jamie (Barlow Jacobs), her surly costar in a local theater production. It’s a rather pesky inconvenience for her when he starts to sleep with her sister; it’s even peskier that Alex is married — to an indie musician, Elliott (Justin Rice, the toothy star of Andrew Bujalski’s films), who lacks the clear hormonal appeal of her new crush. How can Elliott, with his dweebish sincerity, compete? That we even expect him to is the film’s first trick on us. The second is that what looks like a drama of adultery turns out to be an exploration of how the spaces between people can separate them or join them, often at the same moment. A?

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