A shapeless, cold family drama set in a pretty place.
With its ethereal atmosphere and stunning vistas you can’t help but gawk at, it’s baffling that Lake Tahoe is so underrepresented in cinema. Co-directors Tom Dolby and Tom Williams’ debut feature Last Weekend gives the Northern California destination some much-deserved screen time, though the characters they choose to plop into the heavenly locale are far from angelic. It’s a film about miserable, self-centered people so obsessed with taking their frustrations out on each other that they take their beautiful surroundings for granted. If you’ve been to Lake Tahoe, you know that people like this are in great abundance. You also know that you probably wouldn’t want to watch a movie about their petty squabbles. Trust your gut.
The Green family is a perpetually dysfunctional clan of well-to-do yuppies who have been summoned to the family’s grand lakeside estate by their free-spirit matriarch, Celia (Patricia Clarkson). She along with her husband Malcolm (Chris Mulkey), who earned the family their wealth with his fitness center empire, welcome their sons Roger (Joseph Cross), a petulant investment banker, and Theo (Zachary Booth), a screenwriter. The boys are less than thrilled to obey Celia’s marching orders for different reasons, though Roger’s is the darkest: He made a multi-million dollar mistake and got fired by his firm, the news of which should be reported in the business papers shortly, surely spelling years of shame in the eyes of his father.
Theo’s brought along his boyfriend Luke (Devon Graye), who feels out of place in all the opulence, and another couple (Fran Kranz and Rutina Wesley, whose characters’ significance to the story is beyond me). His actor friend Blake (Jayma Mays) pops in later in the weekend. Roger’s brought his girlfriend Vanessa (Alexia Rasmussen), who’s stealthily trying to convince Malcolm to back her line of organic flavored water. (This mini-plot is genuinely funny.) Roger eventually fools around with starlet Blake on the lake, but this leads nowhere, like the rest of the film’s crises.
What he film boils down to is a maelstrom of unpleasant people slinging hateful barbs at each other over dinner tables, jacuzzis, king-size beds, and kitchen counters. The barrage of impoliteness is taxing. These people are so unsympathetic in their narcissism, bull-headedness, and obsession with their non-problems that it’s a challenge to want to stick around to see what becomes of them by the end of the weekend. Almost everything about the Greens is authentic to the idea of American affluence, but the film endeavors to do little more than observe the Greens and their idle bickering, which is so uninteresting you may feel more inclined to count the various tchotchkes peppered throughout the background. A handful of eye-rolling contrivances–a groundskeeper getting electrocuted, someone choking on food at dinner–do little to alleviate the monotony.
It’s a shame, because the cast is actually very, very talented across the board. Clarkson’s prowess is proven, and her scathing exchanges with Cross are wickedly intense and shocking. Mays takes a potentially cartoonish role and skillfully grounds it, and Graye provides the most fleshed-out, emotionally layered performance of the bunch. But the material is more sizzle than steak, giving excellent actors like Kranz and Rasmussen no room to flex.
The only nugget of thought the film offers is the reality that one day, the wealth and comfort the Greens enjoy will be gone. The bigger tragedy is that Theo and Roger have already slipped through Celia’s fingers, made clear by their venomous treatment of her. She and Malcolm secretly plan to sell the family vacation home, because there’s barely a family left to enjoy it. Clarkson elucidates this epiphany well, with her acceptance of loss acting as the film’s grand arc. But since Celia and her flock are long-since disbanded from the moment we meet them, it’s hard to identify the weight of what she’s lost, what she’s lamenting. The love is so anemic in Last Weekend that the film winds up being little more than a shapeless, cold family drama set in a pretty place.