There have been any number of films about dysfunctional family reunions, with Madea's Family Reunion, Meet the Fockers, Garden State, and Ordinary People among the many. Most involve some measure of comedy, although ultimately all tend to offer a special insight that any ordinary family can inevitably relate to, either through similar circumstance or an insanely weird relative.
In that regard, Last Weekend boasts a relatively familiar story line. The wealthy parents of a far-flung family invite their children, the kids' significant others, and a handful of close friends to spend the Labor Day weekend at the family vacation home in Lake Tahoe, where, in short order, their failings and foibles quickly unfold.
Celia, the family's matriarch (sensitively portrayed by Patricia Clarkson) is caught in a crossroads trying to decide if it's time to sell the home and opt for a change. Meanwhile, her two sons (Zachary Booth and Joseph Cross) are each embroiled in a crisis of their own, made all the more complicated by the other houseguests who are spending the weekend with them.
Filmed at the historic 1929 Lake Tahoe estate that served as the location of the 1951 film classic A Place in the Sun, Last Weekend was codirected by two longtime friends, novelist Tom Dolby and producer Tom Williams. We recently caught up with Dolby and Williams and asked them to share their insights on the film's origins.
New Times: Films about dysfunctional family homecomings are a popular subject. Is there a philosophical theme that hasn't been explored before?
Williams: There are so many shades of dysfunctional families, so I think there will always be room for new takes on this type of story. We tried to approach the topic in a way that was comedic but that wasn't goofy or unrealistic. Family reunions are filled with emotion for many reasons, and so there's an incredible vein of drama that can be mined there.
Williams: The biggest thing Last Weekend demonstrates is that money doesn't buy happiness. Celia and her kids have had all the advantages in the world, but they haven't arrived at a place where they are happy. At the end of their four days at the lake, I don't think they've found that happiness yet, but my hope is that they are all in a subtly different place from where they started.
I think it's also rare that we see wealthy people interacting in a way that isn't out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. These people may have money, but they have problems just like everyone else. And they still have to wash the dishes, just like the rest of us, at least some of the time.
What inspired the story?
Dolby: I always wanted to write a story about a family set at Lake Tahoe. This particular type of Northern California milieu is very specific — we rarely see it explored on the screen. And I wanted to show a family with all of its idiosyncrasies, all of its quirks, both good and bad. Real life is pretty mundane, but I think that showing that type of day-to-day existence onscreen can be very funny.
What was your budget like?
Williams: More than some films, less than many.
How did you select your location?
Dolby: I wrote the script to fit the location. The location was the first character that we cast.
So how viable is the independent film business these days?
Williams: I think people make films because they love telling stories. As long as we can do that, it will be worth doing.