If you have ever seen Neil LaBute‘s first few films (In the Company of Men, Yours Friends and Neighbors, Nurse Betty and The Shape of Things), you will have learned to expect certain things from him – tons of flashy, quick dialogue, despicable characters and at least one crushing gut punch to set you spinning for hours after the film concludes. He was as fearless as any writer-director in Hollywood during that stretch and his films always had me intrigued. When he moved to more Hollywood-friendly fare in Possession, Lakeview Terrace and needless remakes of Death of a Funeral and The Wicker Man, he lost me. With Dirty Weekend, it seemed a return to form of sorts to the films of his that I love, ones that provoke reaction and thought.
Dirty Weekend is a fairly simple film in its construction. Two work colleagues, Les (Matthew Broderick) and Natalie (Alice Eve), are re-routed to Albuquerque, New Mexico, en route to Dallas for a big presentation that could hold great things for the future of both at their current company if it comes off well. As with most business travelers, they are annoyed at the inconvenience of being stuck in small/big town when they both have so much riding on their work, but Les seems almost frantic as if something else is getting to him. When Les decides the two should split up so he can mysteriously “go into town”, buzzers start going off for Natalie, who decides to join him against his wishes. As they traverse the streets of Albuquerque, they both reveal hidden parts of their lives to one another.
The reveal of these hidden aspects further pushes Les and Natalie jointly into a quest to help Les find someone he has met in Albuquerque before, the source of his jittery nature when he found out they landed there, armed only with a note written on a slip of paper, Zorro. Once there, Les finds who his looking for, or at least he thinks he does, and Natalie surprises with a discovery of her own.
LaBute‘s background in theater is very evident in this film. The dialogue and the sparse locations would lend this story well to a stage. And in typical fashion, LaBute kills it with the dialogue, which never seems overwrought or out of character in the mouths of Les, Natalie and the very few other ancillary characters. Where this film lacks in comparison to his other earlier films of a similar ilk is it is missing that gut punch moment, that moment that forces you to make a judgment on the character (a really good example of this is Jason Patric‘s nausea-inducing takedown of Catherine Keener‘s character in Your Friends and Neighbors). The scenarios befalling both Les and Natalie seem a little too passé for a LaBute film and seem to fall a little too close to Fifty Shades of Grey-land in some respects and just as uninteresting. Where LaBute used to shock us, Dirty Weekend, which has all the promise of shocks, falls short in that respect. And the thing is, he has the perfect vessel in Broderick to deliver something along those lines. Broderick does deliver a fine performance, however, and is very convincing as the not-as-square-as-we-imagine businessman.
It does well that LaBute allows Alice Eve to flex her acting muscles and not just be used as scenery (JJ Abrams and whoever made that shitty Sex and the City 2 tragedy, I’m talking to you). Her demeanor and delivery are spot on and I found her characterization of Natalie far more intriguing than anyone else in the film.
I think this filmed work at its most basic level – telling a story that piqued my interest. Could it have done it better? My opinion is yes. Perhaps I’m not allowing for LaBute to evolve as a filmmaker, not relying on those squeamish, cringe-inducing moments to carry the film. He could at least given us a Nurse Betty-like elbow drop, though. I enjoyed the performances and as always, the dialogue was spot on. For those who are unschooled in LaBute‘s work, this one may suit you better than veteran viewers.
Dirty Weekend hits theaters this weekend and is being distributed by the good folks at eOne Films.