Movie review: Last Weekend

7September 3, 2014 – It is appropriate that I saw “Last Weekend” on Labor Day, a film that focuses celebrating Labor Day with family and friends, but the comparison ends there.

When you take an affluent Mom and Dad who invite their two grown sons, their significant others, and a few odd friends to their beautiful Lake Tahoe vacation home for the end of summer weekend, you can bet it won’t come off as expected. This is especially taxing for the Mom, who sees the property as something magical, and expects perfection. The comedy/drama premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival in May, and opened in limited release last week.

Led by Patricia Clarkston, the cast also includes Zachary Booth, Joseph Cross, and Chris Mulkey, a highly capable ensemble that brings Tom Dolby and Tom Williams’ film to life. Like many families, the Greens have plenty of dysfunction. The two sons do everything to please their mother, and become withdrawn when she doesn’t notice. She loves them, but does not take their concerns as seriously as they do.

Everyone staying at the home has some kind crazy agenda, as well. There wouldn’t be a story if they didn’t. Right from the get-go, the weekend is a disaster. The problems of the guests seem significant compared to those of the wealthy Greens, who don’t seem to appreciate what they have, and choose to focus on the superficial instead of their good fortune and beautiful home (which is one of two vacation homes). It’s not until their groundskeeper is hospitalized after injuring himself while working on their boat that they start to see what is important.

These are not bad people, but one scene in particular made me question if they are likable. After one of their guests has a serious allergic reaction to salmon during dinner, Clarkston’s character (Celia Green) takes time to ponder whether using the EpiPen is necessary because of the cost. Was the scene placed into the screenplay to make us dislike Celia, or possibly to show us how she internalizes everything and can be self-centered? Clarkston, who is a superb actor pulled it off, but it felt odd and unnecessary. At that point, the audience already has a clear picture of her character.

The main conflict in the film stems from Celia’s decision to sell the house, a problem she hints about with her sons, but never confirms. We’re never told why she wants to sell; she seems to love the house and the memories created there. The only indication is that she talks about how the boys rarely come back to visit, and several old friends have moved away, and the Greens are not crazy about those new money dot coms owners buying all the properties.

Towards the end of the film, there is some redemption, and the audience has the chance to see Celia soften and begin to show empathy for those in her life. The film offers a pleasant diversion for 94 minutes, if only to enjoy some well-written and interesting conversations, and watch this fine ensemble’s ability to tell a story, even though it can seem off kilter at times.

“Last Weekend” is a good rental for a rainy day.

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