Film Review: Last WeekendA sort of modern Chekhovian study of family tensions over a country weekend, this indie drama is very pretty to look at and at times disarming, but needed more punch.
Celia (Patricia Clarkson), the matriarch of the affluent Green clan, is hosting a weekend party in Lake Tahoe. Her guests include her sons, Roger (Joseph Cross) and TV writer Theo (Zachary Booth), who is gay, and their respective partners, ambitious Vanessa (Alexia Rasmussen), who markets her own brand of bottled water, and Luke (Devon Graye), who is young and hot and a very recent hookup. Also invited is old friend Sean (Fran Kranz) and his beautiful black girlfriend, Nora (Rutina Wesley). Everyone, of course, is anticipating a lovely time in this lakeside home which has been decorated with exquisite, near-curatorial care, but signs of complexity begin to show themselves early on. The perfection of these surroundings comes at a price, chiefly Celia's controlling nature, which extends to her sons—who will always be "boys" to her—as well as the artfully arranged baskets she covets and collects.
Celia may or may not be planning to sell their beloved house, and each son also has a secret of his own. Roger was recently embroiled in a business scandal at his job that he is trying to conceal, while Theo has a script he hopes the recovering alcoholic lead actress of his series, Blake (Jayma Mays), will consider doing. He's even invited her down as well, and she shows up in the middle of a disastrous dinner during which Luke has a sudden allergic fit. More drama ensues when the Greens' handyman (Julio Oscar Mechoso) is accidentally electrocuted and has to be rushed to the hospital. Meanwhile, tensions rise among all the couples, and Roger, who has at first looked extremely askance at Blake, whom he considers a fluffy bimbo, begins to experience some decidedly deeper reactions to her.
Although two directors, Tom Dolby and Tom Williams, helmed Last Weekend with obviously loving care, Paul Huidobro's cinematography is the real star here. His lighting, whether by dazzling day or mysterious night, gives the film a superlatively handsome sheen, only adding to the real-estate value of this very special setting. Dolby's script aims for a similar polish, and sometimes gets there, especially with the aid of bossy, stubborn Clarkson's delicately gauged but devastating timing of his dialogue, which decorously skirts outright bitchiness. I do wish, however, that Dolby had gone a little deeper into his delineation of his characters and their past histories, instead of choosing to merely ruffle the surface of their interpersonal tensions. Malcolm (Chris Mulkey), as Papa Green, is little more than a genial cipher, and although the obviously intelligent Wesley makes the most of what tiny opportunities she gets, we get to know very little about her—or Sean, for that matter. Rounding out the cast like window dressing are Judith Light as a shallow neighbor/eternal frenemy of Celia's, and Mary Kay Place and Sheila Kelley as a genial lesbian couple in the vicinity.
A casting glitch has both Rasmussen and Mays so physically similar and blonde that at times it's confusing as to who's who; the actresses share a quality which used to be called "TV blandness" before the current Golden Age of Television began, with shows like “Orange Is the New Black” that have forever blown that cliché out of the water. In Mays' case, this is particularly regrettable. Her entrance as an embattled star whom the tabloids feast upon is built up with so much curiosity and fan-like conjecture that you look forward to some glittering display of temperament on her part which would jazz up this study in quiet passive-aggressiveness…but it never comes.
There's a good argument between Theo and Luke about their differing economic and social statuses that addresses the tensions which can erupt in even the prettiest twink relationships. Booth shows definite flashes of talent, especially in a quietly moving scene wherein he watches his mother crying, so suddenly moved is she by Luke's singing in the shower, realizing that he is more than some anonymous, poor and therefore lowly pick-up her son has dragged home. But then, again, this episode could have used some fine-tuning. In setting it up, Luke should have been shown thinking he was in the house alone before he began vociferously grandstanding as if on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, and another, quieter and less obvious aria besides Puccini's "Nessun Dorma," the favorite of the erstwhile Three Tenors (and subsequently heard in soccer arenas internationally), should have been selected.
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