Dirty Weekend takes place on a Monday, contains little nudity or drug use, and never features anyone actually getting greased up or dressed down. Even if the title is meant to be ironic (think Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie), the latest from writer-director Neil LaBute is a frustratingly stilted vision of middle-aged repression unleashed, without even the common courtesy of cheap thrills to sustain its comprehensively limp runtime. LaBute has always been a filmmaker whose notion of controversy and daring involves educated white folks locating their borderline psychopathic side, usually by spouting naughty words at one another or concocting über-mean-spirited bets in order to prove a meager point. In Your Friends and Neighbors, Jason Patric’s character, a confirmed rapist, calls Catherine Keener’s character a “dyke bitch” and a “useless cunt,” a moment meant to be a “holy shit!” vote of support for the male aggressor. Whatever satire lies within LaBute’s work is often lost to his own confusion over who’s being taken to task.
The same applies in Dirty Weekend, a comedy of manners where LaBute has scaled back the aggressive alpha-male types and replaced them with Les (Matthew Broderick), a neurotic, married businessman who, after a prolonged layover in an Albuquerque airport, decides to venture into the city for some “Indian knick-knacks” to bring home to his kids. At least, that’s what he tells Nat (Alice Eve), his accompanying co-worker. They share unremarkable exchanges regarding the demeanor of the English (she’s British) and banter with a Shakespeare-obsessed cabbie, who clumsily quotes the Bard to their dismay. In the hotel restaurant, Les tells the waitress he didn’t want potatoes with his meal and she inexplicably thinks he’s demanding more. These could be absurdist touches along the lines of After Hours, with its characters stuck in a loop of bizarro interactions, but LaBute finds no such pulse for them, as they lurch from one setting to the next, often with little overriding sense of what the filmmaker is even after in any given scene.
For example, a trip to a coffee shop owned by a Native American, who offers to spike Les’s coffee, ends with Les asking, aloud: “Is this coffee or firewater?” The aim of the line isn’t clear; Les is a self-entitled prick, but also the film’s core character for audience identification. Thus, in LaBute’s refusal to take sharper, more precise aim, the line thuds as a basic affirmation of stereotypical dualities. A similarly queasy assertion occurs later, as Les divulges that his real interest in Albuquerque comes from having had an affair there a year prior; he’s not sure whether it was with a woman or a man, but he remembers doing it “in the ass,” another choice bit of phrasing that doesn’t so much lampoon Les’s sexual naïveté as it reveals LaBute’s witlessly broad-strokes approach.
The pair eventually find themselves at Zorro, a gay bar where Les believes the past interaction took place. As Nat wanders off to make out with a nameless character at the club, Les miraculously finds who he’s been looking for, which leads to a threesome that’s neither bold in its depiction, nor notable in its assessment of the difficulty in maintaining monogamous relationships. The entire film has been building to this confrontation, with Les desperate to put the pieces together regarding both his marital fidelity and potentially homosexual desires, but LaBute plays it as a throwaway, a goof on the character’s drunken manifestations. Even The Overnight, in its misguided satire of contrasting married couples exploring their sexual identities, had the good sense to take its climactic orgy somewhat seriously in its effect on those involved. When Les opines that it’s been “one crazy layover,” the assessment cements LaBute’s half-hearted, disinterested politics by arriving at simplistic ironies and meager embarrassments over hard-fought diagnoses for his characters’ largely unresolved anxieties.