Family Weekend

  • family weekendA totally preposterous premise. Like, totally. A 16 year old has the gumption to kidnap her parents and then another adult, all while not noticing that her frenemy is posting pictures and videos online? Come on. Stupid.
  • Good thing it doesn’t matter how stupid the idea if you do it well.
  • And here they do it well. Very well. Exceptionally well.
  • Olesya Rulin is fantastic as Emily Smith-Dungy. She is determined and vulnerable at every stage, acting on impulse disguised as deliberateness, constantly creeping on the border of insane and totally justified. It is one of my favorite performances in 2013, at least as of July, when I watched Family Weekend.
  • Joey King is also very good as Lucinda Smith-Dungy, Emily’s younger sister. Her character isn’t given nearly as much arc, what with the one note love of acting, but King pulls off what little she is given with aplomb and skill.
  • My second favorite character (behind Rulin’s Emily) is Eddie Hassell’s Jackson. The idea of a boy so starved for attention that he is willing to pretend he’s homosexual just so his father will notice him . . . that is a terrific idea. And a heartbreaking one.
  • Matthew Modine and Kristen Chenowith, as Duncan and Samantha, the kidnapped parents, are also good. Modine’s character’s transformation from self-obsessed, flaky artist to caring father feels natural. The script takes the time to define this character well enough that we can feel his change coming and thereby accept it.
  • Chenowith’s Samantha is not treated so well, unfortunately. To start the film she seems nothing more than a self-absorbed adulteress who cares only about work and her lover and who has zero time for her children. The scene near the end of the film, with Emily sitting on the sofa pouring her heart out to Mom, takes us part of the way to the inevitable transformation, but it isn’t enough to take us all of the way. Up to that scene, Samantha never shifts, even a little, from work-obsessed adulteress who is inappropriately flaunting her adultery to her entire family. (That she never actually cheated on her husband only further calls into question the way the script treats this character.) Samantha is the film’s greatest weakness, and it is not an insignificant one. For this picture to work as well as it might have, Samantha needed to be made just a bit more sympathetic considerably earlier.
  • While I had nothing against Chloe Bridges’ Kat as a character or a performance, she nonetheless presents the film’s second biggest weakness: her transformation from publicly shaming Emily to privately (and then publicly) encouraging our heroine is not good. The script gives us a hint that Emily and Kat were once very good friends, and that helps explain it some, I suppose, but it is still too neat a transition.
  • In the end, the set up for this film is dumb. Very. The characters start as ridiculous archetypes. But as you go on these things becomes less and less important. Why? Because the film is equal parts funny and emotionally moving. I watched it alone, in bed while sick, on my iPad with earphones as my audio, but I was still fully immersed. I laughed out loud. And I felt honest, genuine emotion at multiple turns. The ease with which Samantha and Kat change notwithstanding. It is a special dramedy that can pull off both of those elements: funny and emotionally moving. I think this is one of those special dramedies.
  • Were it not for the poor development of Samantha and Kat, I would give this one an A. Maybe even an A+. And I’d be putting it on my list of Award contenders for Picture, Screenplay and Lead Actress. It does have those flaws, of course, which means it contends for Lead Actress. Nothing more.
  • Final Grade: B

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