Dirty Weekend (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
14Sep/150

Dirty Weekend (2015)

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Stuck at the airport during an unplanned layover, Les starts making nervous excuses to go into the city.  His coworker, Natalie, rightly suspects Les is hiding something she might be interested in and tags along to figure out just what is making Les so nervous.  Neil LaBute writes and directs Dirty Weekend and stars Matthew Broderick and Alice Eve.

Our company is tenuousNeil LaBute is one of those writer / directors whose work I hesitate to revisit because I fear it will not hold up as well as it does in my memory.   Your Friends and Neighbors already suffered a severe case of diminishing returns when what I thought was an edgy comedy about the hidden impulses of yuppie lifestyles was really just one in a long line of comedies about class, gender, and sex.  It seems he's being remembered for the wrong reasons, either camp (because of his now-legendary Wicker Man remake) or out of a half-remembered respect.

Dirty Weekend is an oddity in that I have no fear it will play much the same on my first viewing as it would a fifth or sixth.  It's so dry and immemorably made that the hour and a half it's onscreen is a chore to get through, with little of the LaBute wit creating memorable lines.  But Dirty Weekend deserves to be looked at separate from LaBute's other stinging indictments of upper middle-class life.  It's, dare I say it, a bit sweet?

Of course, this is still LaBute so the sweetness is buried beneath a few rough edges, but there's an interesting progressive bent to Dirty Weekend I wasn't anticipating.  Nonetheless LaBute sketches Les (Matthew Broderick) and Natalie (Alice Eve) as straightforward archetypes.  Les is the laced up family man and Natalie is the no-nonsense businesswoman.

I can't help but feel like part of almost every shot in Dirty Weekend is missing a character or object to fill out the vast empty space.

I can't help but feel like part of almost every shot in Dirty Weekend is missing a character or object to fill out the vast empty space.

But the humor in Dirty Weekend comes out in their mundane reactions to one another's private quirks.  As Natalie tries to draw out the reason Les is so anxious to get to the city she pulls down her turtleneck to reveal a leather collar and ring clasped around her throat.  He's taken back and asks why she would wear that so she fires back with, "Why do you think?"  "Because...she's a...locksmith?"

Broderick's delivery here is perfectly dry and accentuates what little he knows about the kinks of the world and, as it turns out, what kinks lay in his loins.  The playfulness of LaBute's dialogue becomes easier to get a grip on as they continue through the city and Natalie uses her relationship arrangement and comfort with her tastes as a way to needle Les into letting more of himself out.  There's a great moment where LaBute's camera switches to the behind the glass displaying an array of sex toys and Les says, now with a bit of nerve to his dryness, "I'm just taking a little moment here at the sex shop, that's all."

Which brings me to the weird sweetness at the core of Dirty Weekend.  LaBute's screenplay does not hold either Les or Natalie in high esteem, a trademark of LaBute's movies, but shows them growing in their own way.  This means that there are scenes of shocking insensitivity on Les' part as he is a jerk to different shop owners and tells the Native American coffee shop owner that he's, "paying with Yankee dollars".  But he's opening himself to new possibilities, and a late-film rendezvous with the stranger who treated him to a kinky night in the city shows that he may actually relax into the cultural fluidity of the new world.  He'll still have some discriminatory issues to work out, but he's trying and dag nab it that's good for something.

Another demerit, shots which go on long past the point where the information they needed to convey has been successfully transmitted. We already watched Les and Natalie walk all the way to this club, did we need to watch them go up the stairs too?

There's beauty in the mundane, but I'd be hard-pressed to defend shots like when Les and Natalie walk all the way to this club then up the stairs.

Unfortunately for LaBute and this Dirty Weekend, the positive points aren't enough to distract from what is a confusing and dull visual experience.  LaBute isn't exactly known for kinetic camerawork but he's at least been able to stage some creative shots through subtle cinematography.  Not so with Dirty Weekend, where the typical mode of expression is an long shot with Les and Natalie either walking to or away from the stationary camera while their dialogue grows louder.  Many of these shots do not end in some great realization or "arrival" as is suggested by the camerawork, but just another scene of dialogue which ends up being shot like many others.

Then there's the matter of the framing of some of the shots, and if anyone would like to take a guess at what the general visual philosophy is I'd love to here it.  I was perplexed by just what the heck LaBute was trying to communicate with some of the scenes, like one where the composition has Natalie on the side of a wood wall but the slits in the wall are framed ever so carefully so we can see the ATM sign poking through.  Is she making a deposit of interest?  Banking goodwill?  But since she and Les end up closer by the end, why is the wood framed as a wall with no entry point to the "banking"?  It gets more confusing when other people share the scene, as one early shot has Les and Natalie framed to the side in a cluster while a man gets nearly a whole half of the screen to himself for sitting and reading the paper.  Who is this man and what does he have to do with the scene?  Your guess, readers, is welcome.

All in all I truly believe our society is headed in a positive direction and I look to films like Dirty Weekend to provide cultural evidence of this.  Seventeen years ago Les and Natalie would be engaged in a cutthroat game of erotic spin the bottle behind closed doors, now they just make awkward chit-chat in front of sex shops while working out their confused feelings.  I wish the progress was better communicated in visual terms, but it's a win and I'll applaud the little successes while lamenting the whole.

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Tail - Dirty WeekendDirty Weekend (2015)

Screenplay written and directed by Neil LaBute.

Posted by Andrew

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