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Film Review: ‘Last Weekend’

Patricia Clarkson stars as a persnickety matriarch in this smoothly crafted but fairly insufferable seriocomedy about a dysfunctional family's weekend getaway.

Patricia Clarkson, Chris Mulkey, Zachary Booth, Joseph Cross, Devon Graye, Alexia Rassmussen, Rutina Wesley, Fran Kranz, Jayma Mayes, Julie Carmen, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Sheila Kelley, Mary Kay Place, Judith Light, Nora Finley-Perkins, Sean Oakes.

The lifestyles of the rich and petulant require a certain amount of critical distance to be relatable — or even watchable — to unaffiliated viewers. There’s a bit of that perspective in “Last Weekend,” albeit not nearly enough to make this Lake Tahoe-set seriocomedy a more insightful than insufferable portrait of the unsympathetically self-absorbed. Starring Patricia Clarkson as persnickety matriarch presiding over a holiday gathering of bratty offspring and their variably long-suffering partners, the pic reps a smoothly crafted debut feature for co-directors Tom Dolby and Tom Williams. But its eventual reach for warm-and-fuzzy emotional catharsis rings hollow among characters that never become more than disagreeably shallow products of unexamined privilege. Prospects look minor for Sundance Select’s planned late-summer theatrical and VOD release.

The Green clan’s lakeside Tahoe “cottage” — as distinguished from their San Francisco home and a second vacation house somewhere — is an expensively rustic affair with umpteen bedrooms in addition to a free-standing guest house and servant’s quarters. This Memorial Day weekend marks the first time in a while that the entire immediate family has assembled: In addition to fussily eco-conscious Celia (Clarkson) and her genially oblivious fitness-center tycoon spouse, Malcolm (Chris Mulkey), there are two 30-ish sons trying to establish careers of their own.

Already on site is Roger (Joseph Cross), who’s constantly throwing little tantrums at his mother, perhaps redirecting stress from the fact that he’s trying to hide from Dad a big boo-boo he made in his financial-sector job. Roger is accompanied by g.f. Vanessa (Alexia Rasmussen), a local girl hoping to get her fledgling bottled-water product sold in the Greens’ health clubs, while being acutely aware of the icy vibes emanating from Celia — who, in all likelihood, would politely snub any marital prospect for her children as “not good enough.”

The other son, Theo (Zachary Booth), has also brought along a companion: his latest b.f., Luke (Devon Graye). But he’s so self-involved that it’s hard to tell whether Luke was invited because he’s really wanted, or simply to fill a space at the dinner table. To hopefully further Theo’s screenwriting ambitions, he’s also brought along his supervisor (Nora Finley-Perkins) on the sitcom he’s currently working for; her husband (Sean Oakes); and the TV star (Jayma Mays) he’s befriended, a stereotypical neurotic basket case whose sobriety must be tiptoed around during this wine-heavy weekend.

Everybody snipes at each other — well, primarily the Greens do, while their guests sit around pretending not to notice. Temporarily wresting attention from all the petty squabbles is the crisis of a groundskeeper (Julio Oscar Mechoso) suffering a serious accident, which necessitates his being airlifted to a hospital with his housekeeper wife (Julie Carmen). Meanwhile, Celia and Malcolm keep mum about their plans to sell the place, news that’s sure to send their offspring into a tizzy. That rumor has already leaked, however, to a pushy new neighbor (Judith Light) whom everyone disdains for being more vulgarly nouveau riche than they are.

Novelist turned first-time scenarist Dolby (son of the late movie-sound innovator Ray Dolby) clearly knows this milieu intimately. The problem with “Last Weekend” is that it lacks much outside perspective — it knows these people’s foibles well, yet has nothing to say about them. Despite some witty lines, the pic shrinks from the satire one might expect, given characters defined by their superficiality and selfishness. When we’re presumably meant to really feel something for them in the end, the effect is empty. Clarkson’s central figure has a climactic would-be-cathartic moment that comes out of nowhere and signifies nothing in particular. Like much here, it assumes we’ve achieved an emotional connection to characters when most viewers will still be wondering why they should care.

That said, there’s nothing wrong (if nothing memorable, either) about the pic’s execution, which is well crafted from the solid performances to the polished editorial, design and tech contributions. The 1930-built Tahoe home used as the film’s primary setting (for 1949’s classic “A Place in the Sun,” too) looks like a lovely place to visit — though with irksome hosts like this, you might be inclined to fake some excuses and get back in your car within half an hour.

Film Review: 'Last Weekend'

Reviewed at Variety Club screening room, San Francisco, April 16, 2014. (In San Francisco Film Festival.) Running time: 94 MIN.

Production: A Sundance Selects release of a Gran Via Prods. in association with Greyshack Films and Water’s End Productions presentation. Produced by Mike S. Ryan. Executive producer, Mark Johnson.

Crew: Directed by Tom Dolby, Tom Williams. Screenplay, Dolby. Camera (color, HD), Paula Huidobro; editors, Michael R. Miller, David Gray; music, Stephen Barton; music supervisors, Jim Rota, Michael Hill; production designer, Amy Williams; art director, Kay Lee; set decorator, Mariaclara Zazzaro; costume designer, Alexis Scott; sound (Dolby Digital), Anton Gold; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Eric Offin; casting, Mary Vernieu, Michelle Wade Byrd.

With: Patricia Clarkson, Chris Mulkey, Zachary Booth, Joseph Cross, Devon Graye, Alexia Rassmussen, Rutina Wesley, Fran Kranz, Jayma Mayes, Julie Carmen, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Sheila Kelley, Mary Kay Place, Judith Light, Nora Finley-Perkins, Sean Oakes.

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