11/04/2007

Two Weeks

Director: Steve Stockman

It seems as unlikely that someone will suddenly feel in the mood for a deathbed drama/comedy as it is that there is an entire market of “self-help” books on the art of death and dying that go beyond the main five stages. Yet only moments into writer/director Steve Stockman’s debut film one character reveals an entire backseat of her car that she’s transformed into a melancholy book mobile ready for every possible feeling and problem to encounter while nursing her mother in her final days. Loosely inspired on his own experiences with the death of his mother, Stockman’s Two Weeks finds four adult children reuniting with their mother Anita (Sally Field) at the North Carolina home she shares with her second husband Jim (James Murtaugh). The aforementioned voracious reader Emily (Julianne Nicholson) shares an unusually close relationship with her mother that leans more towards friendship than traditional mother/daughter bond and it's with Emily that our heart goes during the entire film as we watch her cope with the internal struggle and problems that arise in both watching her mother succumb to the end of the battle with ovarian cancer but in trying to let some of her duties go to her three very different brothers as well. Keith, a writer and filmmaker with an addictive past that has led him to a Zen philosophy is played by Ben Chaplin reminding us once again why we were so taken with him in The Truth About Cats and Dogs and his performance is elevated by some of the humorous confrontations and issues he has with the responsible, hardworking overachiever Barry (Thomas Cavanagh) and the youngest spoiled brother Matthew (Glenn Howerton), who was conceived as an accident and seems to have always felt like an outsider to his tight-knit older trio of siblings who have always subconsciously bossed him around. Of course, it doesn’t help that Matthew married self-involved princess Katrina (Clea Duvall) who alienates and infuriates the Bergman family by refusing to help them nurse their sick mother because nobody made her any coffee and pout that they weren’t their four her adenoid surgery years earlier that only resulted in a few hour hospital stay. The scenes with Duvall give the film a clich├ęd Devil Wears Prada feel that helps get our mind off the brutal matter at hand but it’s still a painfully real and depressing look at the conditions facing the end of the horrid disease as Stockman boldly refuses to cut any corners in dealing with the nitty gritty of the vomiting, pain, and hospice situation. While some critics were less than forgiving in his decision to include some admittedly forced bits of humor and overly cute situations that are never quite convincing (and instead recall a sitcom), I applaud his ambition to include absurdity to help give the film some much needed moments of levity and Cavanagh and Chaplin are especially good at walking the line between tragedy and comedy very well. However, I was most taken by Nicholson’s portrayal—she’s an exceptionally good actress who in this film and Tully manages to fly just below the radar in elevating independent films to new levels. Of course, this is all bearing that you find yourself suddenly in the mood for a deathbed movie.