Two Weeks

[24 September 2007]

By Celena Carr

Two Weeks is the feature film debut of writer/director/producer Steve Stockton. The semi-autobiographical work explores the individual nature of grief amidst family dynamics as the four adult children of Anita Bergman, played adeptly by Sally Field, gather at their childhood home to say goodbye to their ailing mother. But while the title may suggest that we’re examining the last two weeks of Anita’s life, the timeframe and plot revolve instead around her children, from their arrival home through the scattering of her ashes.

We open, not on Anita, but on her eldest son, Keith, (Ben Chaplin), awaking on the flight from L.A. to South Carolina. While the camera and the film stray from Chaplin at times, it is really his eyes that guide us through the story. He is a younger, better looking facsimile of Stockton, whose own mother died of ovarian cancer a decade ago an experience that eventually formed the inspiration for this film. Keith, like Stockton, holds a vaguely alluded to, (though never specified), Hollywood occupation. Throughout the movie we leave the narrative to shots of Keith filming and interviewing Anita as a keepsake for the family she will leave behind.

These interview scenes are one of few highlights in an otherwise dull exercise. Field is allowed to shine once she is away from her snarky, bickering offspring and she gives us the only glimpse of a character that we can come close to liking. This is because the writing and editing of these shots are better executed and Field is more skilled at portraying a full person complete with strengths and flaws. While we learn that she too has behaved badly at times and is certainly flawed, she also appears real. She doesn’t justify or excuse herself other than to say, “I did the best I could.” She is certainly not without regret, but she is, at least, without guilt.

Compared to Anita the children are one-dimensional caricatures, though to be fair, they’re written into this role more than they act themselves into it. Chaplin’s Keith is the most tenderly acted and fairly written and the child Anita seems to connect with most. He is also saddled with annoying attempts at humor as he tries to wheedle his way into his mother’s leftover painkillers and publicly berates an over-zealous grocery store clerk over the sale price of orange juice. Supposedly chewing out irksome customer service people and joking about Percodan and Dilodin is Keith’s way of dealing with, (or according to his siblings, denying), his grief, but the dialogue is so trite and sitcom-like that the only thing missing is the laugh track.

Anita,(Sally Field), awaits her children.

Anita,(Sally Field), awaits her children.

Each child is sandbagged with one of these devices. Julianne Nicholson is Anita’s only, anxious daughter, Emily, who thinks she can research her way through her mother’s death. Early on, she tells Keith her stack of books is to help her try to learn something from the experience. She and Stockton are almost onto something here, but the sentiment is so backwards since we learn in experience and retrospect, and not in anticipation, that the moment is lost.

Tom Cavanaugh, who won hearts several years ago as the title character on the series Ed, is cartoonish as the middle son, Barry. His work and self-importance constantly threaten to call him away from his mother’s deathbed until an assistant reminds him that this is “real life,” a point he misses when his wife tries to make it only minutes earlier. The youngest son, Matthew, is solidly portrayed by Glenn Howerton. He comes closest to acting his way out of the corner that he’s been written into. But the camera, like Matthew’s siblings, ignores him too much of the time.

So each character is outlined, but other than Anita, none are really filled in. Combined with the stuttering pace, and an awkward obsession with ill-timed humor, this makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience. Stockton is far more sincere in real life than in his writing as he appears in the Making of special feature titled Learning to Live through Dying, in which he discusses the project as well as his mother’s death, though even here the emotion seems somewhat lacking. During this feature, Field remarks that it is our ability to find humor in sad situations that makes us human, but there has to be more to it than this, and Two Weeks just never reaches for what that may be.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/two-weeks/