For fans of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Mountaintop is pretty much a must-see.
Poor Margo. All she wanted was a romantic getaway with her boyfriend, Bradford, who has waited a suspiciously long time to propose, considering he secretly purchased a ring months ago. Now she finds herself roped into spending a weekend with Bradford—and his mean-spirited ex, Zadie—in a B&B run by Zadie’s mom, Karen. No sooner does Margo arrive than she is made to feel unwelcome by both mother and daughter, who make it clear that it was Bradford’s decision to invite her. Adding insult to injury, Karen later dubs her browbeaten guest’s sullen demeanor as “pitiful.” Every earnest stab at conversation made by Margo is undercut by Zadie’s withering remarks, which we are consistently informed are funny, but just come off as cruel. By the time Margo finally announces that she’s ready to leave, I was eager to gather my things and join her in escaping this would-be comedy.
As played by DeWanda Wise, Margo is the lone sympathetic figure in Stella Meghie’s “The Weekend,” the only character capable of conveying emotion without a flat affect cloaked in grating irony. Alas, she’s just the foil for the film’s designated protagonist, Zadie, played by comedian and “Saturday Night Live” alum Sasheer Zamata, who hasn’t yet figured out how to make her endearing stage persona be adequately realized on film. The titular weekend is bookended by Zadie’s generic stand-up routine about her break-up, a la “Seinfeld,” which Zamata delivers with a deadpan hollowness that extends through her entire performance. Jerry Seinfeld was not a particularly great actor himself, and he was wise enough to gather a peerless ensemble that enabled him to fulfill the roles of straight man and frequent second-fiddle. Zadie refers to herself as the supporting actress in a romantic comedy, yet she’s clearly the lead in every sense, while everyone else is planted around her to affirm that she’s a riot, as alleged by Meghie’s misguided script.
The very notion of these characters willingly occupying the same space for an extended period of time, let alone breaking off into new pairs, is as improbable as the plot of Meghie’s 2017 teen drama, “Everything, Everything,” another contrived love story that threatens to devolve into horror fodder. When a good-looking stranger, Aubrey (Y’lan Noel), conveniently materializes at the B&B after leaving his longtime partner, Zadie leaps at the opportunity to walk through the woods with him at night, much to the understandable unease of Bradford (Tone Bell). Of course, Bradford is harboring more than mere concern for his ex, and when he reveals his true feelings late in the game, Zadie gives him a well-deserved dressing-down comprised of overwritten psychoanalyses that may have resonated had they been wittier (“You showed your true colors and they are an ugly palette”). Robi Botos’ jazzy original music, which I’d gladly listen to on its own, suggests an underscore for snappy Woody Allen banter, but the script’s attempts at clever, airy wordplay are leaden at best.
If Zadie had actually envisioned Bradford as nothing more than a friend, then she would’ve given Margo a break. Instead, she berates her with constant sour remarks at dinner, prompting Margo to momentarily leave the room. When she returns, the film sloppily jump cuts to everyone laughing, thus robbing the viewer of any indication as to how this foursome could possibly stand each other. Aubrey’s maddeningly chipper disposition signals that he’s either in denial about Zadie’s hurtful nature or he’s just an underdeveloped idealized love interest. Or both. In one of the film’s few amusing moments, Zadie’s penchant for unvarnished honesty causes her to tell Aubrey that his love life—more “damaged and pathetic” than her own—is a turn-on. This leads them to make a valiant attempt at having sex in the back of his cramped car, before finding that it’s ultimately impossible, a nice subversion of the usual cinematic lovemaking performed with seeming effortlessness on subway trains.
Alas, such chuckles are few and far between, as “The Weekend” quickly proves to be the mopiest comedy in many a moon. Zadie’s Debbie Downer routine pulls down the whole picture, and yet we never truly feel her pain, even in a rare unguarded moment when she admits to Karen (Kym Whitley) that she doesn’t know how to take responsibility for herself. Zamata might as well be reading her lines directly into the mic onstage, since she never appears fully present in any given scene. There’s dialogue here that sounds as if it could’ve been funny, such as a running gag involving Little Women or the reasons behind Zadie’s asymmetrical haircut, but there’s not enough urgency fueling these words to make them register as anything more substantial than material for her act. Though Zadie ridicules the cliché requiring movie characters to obtain a last-minute clarity of conscience, that’s precisely what happens to her in the film’s final moments, as she awakens from “three years of sleepwalking” with a sharpened self-awareness that is too little, too late.
While Zadie and Bradford’s manipulative games repeatedly demonstrated that they are richly deserving of one another, my attention kept drifting back to Margo, who is, without question, the story’s unsung heroine. After all, she’s the one who spontaneously serves as a matchmaker for Aubrey and Zadie, guiding the lovebirds together even when having acid-tongued one-liners hurled in her face, which is no small feat. In a film with very little worth recommending, Wise deserves props for dutifully taking on what is, essentially, Jami Gertz’s role as the disposable fiancé in “Twister.” As soon as Margot exited the picture, I couldn’t wait for a tornado to bear down and swallow up the rest of the cast.
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