dirty weekend

[photo: Falcon Films]

Writer-director Neil LaBute likes discomfort. His characters are often in uncomfortable situations, forced to talk about uncomfortable topics, thereby making the audience uncomfortable on their behalf. His latest film, Dirty Weekend, is more of the same but with less favorable results than previous efforts such as In the Company of Men or The Shape of Things.

Those films at least could justify the discomfort by having something to say about human nature and the costs of our ability to emotionally abuse others. What Dirty Weekend has to say, if it has anything to say at all, is not all that clear and simply not as interesting.

Matthew Broderick and Alice Eve play, respectively, Les and Natalie – two co-workers with seemingly little in common who are stuck on a layover in Albuquerque while on a business trip together. When Les decides to go into town to kill some time, Natalie insists on going with him despite his protests. Her excuse (she’s afraid splitting up will cause one or both of them to miss their connecting flight) is pretty flimsy, as is much of what happens after.

Stuck with an inquisitive tagalong, Les is quickly forced to admit that he has an ulterior motive for wanting to go into downtown. To get it out of him, Natalie admits something about herself – her penchant for oppressive turtlenecks – which have her pegged as uptight around the office – are actually the only practical wardrobe choice to cover up the choker she wears at the insistence of her dominant lover. Les, by all appearances an old, out of touch, middle of the road type takes this in stride. Turns out he is on a quest to uncover the truth of a drunken and debauchery filled night out in Albuquerque a short time ago.

As with most of LaBute’s work in this vein there is a big reveal as the truth about Les’s encounter becomes clear. It’s not all that shocking and, worse, not all that enlightening with regards to who Les is as a character. Nevertheless, both actors do a fine job with what they are given, but the results are hollow. It’s mostly a film that follows two people in and out of various coffee shops as they parse out each other’s sexual proclivities. On the surface it’s an interesting concept: a pair of coworkers who don’t know each other very well find themselves becoming friends by discussing a typically (in American culture) uncomfortable subject. But there’s not a deep enough sense of character to make any of it worthy. There’s no obvious shell that Les needs to come out of by facing this past event, nor is it clear how doing so will change him as a person. Even after he’s done it! For Natalie, this vague backstory of her being in a master/servant relationship reveals nothing insightful about her as a person.

The film has other flaws which may seem nitpicky, but when what’s happening onscreen is less than interesting, the mind tends to wander and find things that might ordinarily go unnoticed. Case in point: why is there a Lakers game on in the middle of a Monday afternoon? (Les uses it as a conversation point during an awkward bathroom encounter). The film makes several other specific references to time, but then goes on to have an annoying disregard for it. It’s this lack of attention to detail that only heightens the film’s triviality. It feels more like an exercise. LaBute’s background is in theater and this feels like a script still being workshopped – but does anyone want to pay to see a work in progress?