Dying for laughs, generically

Two Weeks

on December 01, 2006 by John P. McCarthy
Although Two Weeks, a dramedy about four adults dealing with the imminent death of their mother, grew out of writer/director Steve Stockman's personal experience, it lacks specificity. An eminently relatable, universal topic — whose parents are immortal? — is handled in a frank manner that falls short of well-observed. Although quite touching and stitched with black humor, little of what transpires feels like it's happening to particular people at a particular time in a particular place. If the details in an intimate, low-budget movie such as this aren't palpable, the overall effect is compromised.

Anita Bergman (Sally Field) is dying of ovarian cancer as her offspring gather in the North Carolina home she shares with an irrelevant husband of 13 years. Her divorce from their father doesn't overly concern the kids as they divvy up responsibilities and unwanted chattel, receive tuna casseroles and critique each other's coping skills and major life choices. The eldest, Keith (Ben Chaplin), is a Hollywood filmmaker who interviews his mother on videotape to create a sort of final testament, more for his benefit than hers. Emily (Julianne Nicholson) is the willing caregiver, constantly consulting the literature on dying. Middle child Barry (Tom Cavanagh) is a workaholic. And Matthew (Glenn Howerton) is sensitive and bullied by his shrewish wife.

In quick scenes that often fade to black and are trimmed shorter as death approaches, Stockman elicits adequate performances in his directorial debut. There are glimpses of Field's trademark pep, particularly when Anita is being grilled by Keith, but she's mostly asked to embody the horrific, agonizing details of Anita's final days, vomiting and moaning and ultimately expiring with the help of morphine supplied by a hospice nurse. Instead, the focus here is on how the children react.

Meanwhile, amid twangy guitar music that sounds like a last-minute attempt to add texture, mordant jokes deployed by the director's sarcastic alter ego Keith aren't terribly funny, and lighter moments — one involving Anita's ashes — don't work at all. That's partly intentional: Viewers aren't meant to laugh out loud but rather to nod knowingly and let the tears well up as grief is simultaneously deflected and heightened. There's a reason we avoid confronting death—nine times out of 10, it's damn sad. And so it is with Anita's demise. You are moved at select points during Two Weeks, demonstrating the old showbiz adage that comedy is harder to pull off than tragedy. Distributor: MGM
Cast: Sally Field, Ben Chaplin, Tom Cavanagh, Julianne Nicholson, Clea Duvall and Glenn Howerton
Director/Screenwriter: Steve Stockman
Producers: John Marias and Steve Stockman
Genre: Comedy drama
Rating: R for language, including some sexual references
Running time: 97 min.
Release date: March 2, 2007 ltd

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