There’s some very fine writing in this family drama — too much, in fact, and pic finally sinks under the weight of excess gab. Excellent performances from a superior cast (one that snagged a collective jury prize in Seattle) may help attract select older auds. But this “Weekend” is too stolid and familiar to reap more than a couple of Saturday nights out on the town. Vid viewers may take it home after work, however.
Tale is set at a deluxe spread in upstate New York, where family and friends are gathering by a lake to remember the AIDS-related passing, exactly one year earlier, of the much-loved Tony (played in flashbacks by D.B. Sweeney). Worst hit, still, are Tony’s half-brother, John Kerr (Jared Harris), and John’s moody wife, Marian (Deborah Kara Unger, here sporting an English accent). After much effort, they now have a small baby, but their summertime joy is shaded by unfinished business with the dear departed. In fact, the marrieds are rather concerned when the dead man’s longtime lover, the bookish Lyle (David Conrad), shows up with a new beau. That b.f. Robert (James Duval) is an up-and-coming painter causes extra trouble for Marian, who gave up her art career when the baby came along.
Meanwhile, at a villa across the lake, the wealthy, much-widowed Laura (Gena Rowlands) comes home to a surprise visit from daughter Nina (Brooke Shields), whose resume says “actress” but whose true vocation is shocking and disappointing to Mom. This time, Nina has brought along a married, black Parisian (Gary Jourdan), but Laura turns the tables by charming the young interloper. He’s soon dispatched, leaving mother and daughter free to join a memorial dinner at the Kerrs. Turns out Nina, like everyone else, was mad about young Tony, although she’s now willing to transfer some of that selfish affection to his brother, who feels increasingly shut out of his wife’s emotions.
Laura, meanwhile, lets some home truths fly after too many glasses of wine, and the evening is something of a bust. Helmer Brian Skeet is skillful at building tension toward this midpoint climax, but for some reason, he conveys the characters’ relaxation after they experience the emotional release by having them all start smoking like mad — and the story turns into one big post-coital sigh.
Whole pic tends to go too far: Talk about maintaining “a respect for the possible” and how “summer casts a spell on all of us” is striking at first, but almost everything here is overexplained and strenuously poeticized. Blue-tinted flashbacks of Tony are idealized in the most old-fashioned manner, and the film seems frozen in amber by its overly fussy presentation. Most notably, it is ADR’ed to death, with every whisper, cry, cricket and splash all too obviously recorded in a studio and then mixed aggressively, with highly artificial, reverb-drenched results — all of it underlined by an insistently prissy piano score.
If “Weekend” is afraid to take the risks it recommends, at least its actors aren’t. Particularly striking are Shields, who doesn’t usually play such brittle, hard-to-like characters, and Unger, who — aside from looking fantastic in every scene — treads softly into thorn-filled territory. Rowlands gets all the best lines and knows exactly what to do with them. Harris and Sweeney have only one scene together, and we’re never convinced that their characters are related, in life or death. Despite some memorable high points, pic plays like “Love! Valour! Compassion!” — without the laughs.