Onetime enfant terrible writer-director Neil LaBute continues his long slide into irrelevancy with Dirty Weekend, a comedy-drama that has barely any laughs, isn’t that erotic, and contains zero insight into human sexuality. And it somehow accomplishes all this while desperately trying to convince you of how edgy it is.
Alice Eve and Matthew Broderick play business colleagues Natalie and Les, who are stuck in Albuquerque when their flight has a long layover. Although he seems to clearly dislike the city, Les wants to go out exploring, and Natalie, much to his annoyance, would rather accompany him than spend the rest of her time drinking alone at the airport bar. She quickly realizes that Les is hiding an ulterior motive for wandering around; when she opens up by sharing a secret about her own sex life, Les reciprocates by admitting that he had a drunken affair the last time he was in the city, although he isn’t sure if it was with a man or a woman (how drunk was this guy?).
That sounds like a decent setup for a tale of sexual exploration — uptight, middle-aged man must confront the possibility that his orientation isn’t exactly what he thought it was, and figure out how to move forward — but none of the finer details work. For starters, Broderick is awful as Les. Every line reading of his is awkwardly overwrought, to the point where it feels like he’s sealed off in his own emotional universe and is barely interacting with Eve at all. There’s also the curious fact that Les keeps defending his reluctance to admit that he might not be entirely straight by chalking it up to his “generation” simply not being comfortable discussing or thinking about such things. And sure, the United States, and Western culture in general, has definitely become much more gay-friendly and sexually open over the past few decades, no question. But Les says he’s from California, and it’s safe to assume that he’s supposed to be roughly the same age as Broderick himself, who was born in 1962. Would growing up in 1970s California really mold a person into thinking that sexual experimentation in any form is obscene? Seems unlikely. Les, of course, could have his own reasons for his repression, but the character is such a blank that we can’t really guess at what they might be.
Alice Eve is fine as Natalie, her crisp British accent providing a nice contrast to Broderick’s flat, almost monotone delivery. Unfortunately, the story loses interest in her dilemma of whether she should cheat on her partner during its third act, as Les’ investigation takes center stage. Here’s where Dirty Weekend’s biggest problem reveals itself: Its sexual situations are so extreme that it’s impossible to know what any viewer should get out of them. (Spoiler alert!) Les eventually learns that his drunken affair was actually a threesome with a cross-dressing man and a female prostitute, hence his confusion. Oh, and the man and woman are siblings who have a weird, incestuous relationship. Wait, what? After having group sex with them again, Les quietly reflects on what this means for his marriage. Wouldn’t any normal person be asking what the hell is going on with these two people?
Much of the script’s dialogue aims for the long, winding nature of a good play, but it lacks the nuance or wit to justify the talkiness. Likewise, LaBute’s direction never rises above “competent,” and the noticeable lack of art direction makes the movie look cheap (it was clearly filmed in ordinary locations around Albuquerque, and one imagines the city rues the day it gave LaBute whatever tax breaks convinced him to shoot there, since he depicts the locals, almost without exception, as rubes). Dirty Weekend wants to say something new about the mystery of sexual attraction, but at this point, Neil LaBute seems to have the same level of insight into sex and relationships as Sin City creator Frank Miller does into violence and criminality.