A family’s final days with their dying mother generates an indifferent emotional experience in “Two Weeks.” With Sally Field as the cancer-ridden mom and the combined talents of Ben Chaplin, Julianne Nicholson and Tom Cavanagh surrounding her, pic veers unsteadily between melodrama and light comedy, with no confidence in either. This marks a curious pickup for MGM as an awards-season qualifier, since it will quickly pass on to the great beyond of vid and cable.
Field’s recent renewed visibility, stoked by her lead as matriarch on the TV series “Brothers and Sisters,” should theoretically boost the film’s profile after its Hamptons fest premiere in October. But any randomly selected minutes of that rather wan family drama are better than whole chunks of tyro writer-producer-director Steve Stockman’s account of how siblings react to their mom’s dying and to each other in “Two Weeks.”
As the two weeks begin, Anita Bergman (Field) is bed-ridden at her home in North Carolina, with her second husband, Jim (James Murtaugh), apparently unable or unwilling to take charge of her care. This falls mainly to her responsible, serious daughter Emily (Julianne Nicholson), who then asks her brothers Barry (Cavanagh), Keith (Chaplin) and Matthew (Glenn Howerton) to join her at the family home. (Anita’s first husband, briefly mentioned, is literally out of the picture.)
Inserted awkwardly into the 14-day cycle are clips from Keith’s video recording/interview of Anita, answering his questions about her life and the family. Narrative device — literally outlining the story’s topics — establishes Keith as a “Hollywood” type, though it’s never clear what he actually does in the film industry, just as it’s never clear when exactly Keith recorded Anita, since she’s much healthier and more energetic in front of his camera than in her final weeks.
Indeed, much of Field’s speaking perf is in the vid segments, since her character is comatose for pic’s latter half. Outside of a scene where she insists on coming to the dinner table to chew and spit up some spare ribs (since she can’t digest food), and a sojourn at the beach, Anita’s character becomes mere background to the sibling squabbling.
And squabble they do, though rarely convincingly. Stuck between Emily and her bevy of how-to manuals on the dying process and Barry’s go-getter attitude as a hustling corporate guy, Keith apparently is unsure of himself and his relations with loved ones, while the youngest, Matthew, feels marginalized by his siblings’ open contempt of his self-centered wife (Clea Duvall).
A series of small incidents –including forging documents to get mom’s savings out of the bank — do nothing to bring clarity to Keith’s unfocused character, and advance the sense that the movie has no real idea of what works as either comedy or tragedy.
None of this helps Chaplin, whose own lack of verve or quirks project a bland profile. Field plays sick with conviction, but her monologues to Keith’s camera lack force.
Nicholson, on a roll since her stunning work in “Flannel Pajamas,” invests Emily with a lived-in quality that sets her apart from the rest of the cast, including Cavanagh in another variation on his usual deadpan manner.
Vid-shot production, though pro in all departments, couldn’t look plainer. MPAA’s bizarre rating of R (for language and supposed sexual references) seems extremely harsh and unwarranted.
Pic was screened for critics on tele-cine video, preventing any judgment of Stephen Kazmierski’s HD vid cinematography.