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Twitting Time: Deborah Unger and Jared Harris host a clutch of upper-class neurotics in Brian Skeet's 'The Weekend.'

Tony, Tony, Phony

A summerhouse full of well-bred neurotics: 'The Weekend'

By Richard von Busack

THE EPITOME of upper-class-twit cinema, The Weekend brings us the sufferings of a Hudson Valley house party taking place in what seems like real time. Was it, in fact, two long days in the theater with this group of high-toned snobs?

I have to say that their cottage is very well gardened: how barbered the lawn, how snowy the driveway gravel, how magenta the wisteria; how elevated Deborah Unger's cheekbones; how inviting the river--why did those actors persist in obscuring our view of it all?

A year previous, golden Tony perished of AIDS. We see him in blue-tinted flashback, played by D.B. Sweeney looking like a lost princeling of the Kennedy family. Now, at a weekend dinner party, come painful reminders of the man in his prime.

By chance, gathered at the table are three of his former lovers. First is his boyfriend to the very end, Lyle (David Conrad), who is dating again, though we know he's still in mourning. Second is our hostess, Marian (Unger), who once had a sort of tentative passion for Tony, her own brother-in-law. Third is the demi-semi-movie actress Nina (Brooke Shields), who journeyed with Tony to Morocco in a hopeless attempt to seduce him.

"He broke my heart, not my hymen," Nina says, and Shieldsologists will agree that this is the line Shields has been waiting for all her career. (Nina and Tony also used to read Joe Orton together; the author of What the Butler Saw could have made mincemeat out of The Weekend.)

Representing Survival After Grief is Laura, Nina's mother, played by Gena Rowlands. She's as grand as a solid gold piano and given to unstoppable talk about her villa in Italy.

Our host, Marian's husband, John (Jared Harris), couldn't be more unlike his late stepbrother--craggy where Tony was smooth, a handyman where Tony was artsy. John is the father of the baby upstairs. And what a quiet baby Roland the baby is. The new mothers in the audience will get anxious considering how the kid is displayed at the beginning and forgotten throughout the rest of the movie. No one goes upstairs to check that it's sleeping on its back, even.

The baby is the spoken reason--Tony's death being the unspoken reason--why Marian has given up painting. Marian says with a Draculine sigh, "After little Roland, painting was a thing of the pooost." And Lyle's new date, Robert (James Duval), also exists outside this household's supposed gilded radiance.

Robert is an art critic, author of a book titled (moan) Neo This, Neo That. We can presume that Robert represents the intrusion of the harsher modernist analytical world into the realm of these languidly creative romantic ditherers. He's also from India--though with no accent or other indication of foreignness.

Racism might be the reason for Robert's estrangement from this household. Whether this is inferred or overlooked, I can't say. Director/writer Brian Skeet (The Misadventures of Margaret) has adapted Peter Cameron's novel with an utter lack of inflection. Skeet must have felt that everything was right there on the page, but truly, it wasn't.

I can't tell whether a line about "the smudgy carbon copy of memory" is supposed to be poetic or satirical, though it's probably the former, considering some of the other dialogue. Laura to Nina: "One of these days life is going to present us with a bill. And I don't know if we're going to be able to pay it." Marian (to herself, anticipating one of the better gags in the Bedazzled remake): "Why does twilight make me cry?" Nina describing to her mother a married man that she, Nina, had picked up and dropped hard: "He was just another way of hurting you and punishing myself."

By the time of the Incident of the Grape Scissors--a family heirloom, scorned and spitefully tossed into the grass--you may have decided that you've been punished enough, too. The Weekend aspires to be a new version of Chekhov's tales of would-bes and has-beens. Instead, it's a thing of the "pooost," a deadly stiff-upper-lip drama of the sort long thought extinct after WWII. I wouldn't have batted an eye if someone flounced in swishing a racquet, inquiring, "Tennis, anyone?"

The Weekend (unrated; 97 min.), directed and written by Brian Skeet, based on the novel by Peter Cameron, photographed by Ron Fortunato and starring Deborah Unger, David Conrad and Brooke Shields, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the December 7-13, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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