Film Review: Dirty Weekend

Two co-workers stranded in Albuquerque explore some personal taboos in this dashed-off comedy of manners from Neil LaBute.
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Les and Natalie are co-workers only. But the way they come off the plane into the Albuquerque airport where they’ve been unexpectedly delayed en route to a business meeting in Dallas, their moments of irritation and also knowledge of each other’s quirks suggest a deeper connection. In an earlier Neil LaBute film or play, that tension in the relationship would either sour into something perverse or explode with accusations and hurt. That never happens in Dirty Weekend, a placid, minor effort from a onetime scandalous writer-director who has rarely been accused of not going far enough.

From the very beginning, LaBute flirts with the idea that something risky is in the offing. The film’s first words, “Where are we again?”, and the generic backdrops of hotel restaurants and empty city streets suggest a suspension of morality that will allow these characters’ ids to come out and play. Les (Matthew Broderick, ever the nebbish) is all nerves in his argyle sweater and frequently adjusted glasses, as though he’s already been caught doing something naughty. Barely containing her irritation, Natalie (Alice Eve) just wants to get on to their destination in the most efficient manner possible, as though she is nervous what will happen the longer they stay in Albuquerque.

In an epically roundabout manner, Les lets it be known that he’s heading “into town.” His stated reason—to buy trinkets for the kids—doesn’t exactly ring true. Whether out of boredom or a protective desire to stick close to her co-worker, Natalie tags along. As they amble about the sun-struck pedestrian plazas and half-deserted businesses of downtown Albuquerque, they engage in some of the blankest dialogue scripted for a film in recent memory. Les’s favorite sayings appear to be “Maybe” and “I don’t know.” At first, the writing seems to be pointing towards a Godot-like circumlocution. But then it becomes clear that the characters are simply biding time until both of their secrets are finally revealed. (No surprise, it being LaBute: They both involve sex and transgression.) This makes sense in terms of the characters’ repressed dynamic. But without much of any subtext layered behind the suppression, it hardly makes for scintillating cinema, and suggests that the filmmaker is biding his time as well.

Once both Les and Natalie’s cards are on the table, the film briefly perks up. But each of their soul-baring secrets feel manufactured, stock. They are practically as inauthentic as the gay bar they eventually find themselves in, where people are dolled up in their late-night club best and sipping martinis on a Monday afternoon in Albuquerque. Almost worse is the fact that while Natalie is by far the more fully evolved and interesting character, the point of view is almost exclusively that of Les, who is so underdeveloped as to barely be a concept, much less a person.

Fraught and sadistic power dynamics are the sort of thing LaBute’s been exploring since plays like Fat Girl up to his last feature, Some Velvet Morning (also starring Eve). It’s almost been a crutch for him as an artist, that and the fallback trick of the shock reveal. But with Dirty Weekend, we see what can happens when LaBute is not working that obsidian-black seam. The result is less Beckett than it is boring.

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