Polly Draper is both behind the camera and in front of it in this ill-considered collaboration with her actor sons Nat and Alex Wolff. Rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.
Ten minutes into “Stella’s Last Weekend,” a little voice inside my head said, uh-oh, this movie was a really bad idea.
Despite the pool of considerable talent involved — especially Polly Draper (“thirtysomething”) and her sons, the equally prolific and gifted Nat Wolff (“Paper Towns”) and Alex Wolff (“Patriots Day”) — “Stella’s Last Weekend” is an ill-conceived family project that leaves no one creatively involved looking good.
That’s a shame, because Draper, who wrote the screenplay for the sensitive, memorable “The Tic Code,” and who wrote and directed “Stella’s Last Weekend,” this time has given us a baffling dramedy centered around two obnoxious brothers we’re supposed to consider sympathetic rascals. (Draper previously worked with her boys in a decade-old television series called “The Naked Brothers Band.”)
Older brother Jack (Nat Wolff) is a bundle of disillusionment and disappointment. His father, a researcher in marine biology, is dead, and his mother, Sally (Draper), has inexplicably married a lunkhead, Ron (Nick Sandow), who faults her on her indulgent parenting. Jack, inspired by his dad, thought a trip to the Galapagos Islands was going to happen, but it’s not. And he is heartbroken over the demise of a romance with Violet (Paulina Singer). No wonder he’s struggling in college.
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Oliver (Alex Wolff), still in high school, spots Violet one day, with no awareness of her previous relationship with Jack. Violet, somehow, doesn’t know that two guys who look alike and have the same last name could be related. Oliver and Violet become a couple, and deception and reckonings ensue.
By the way, the Stella of the film’s title is a beautiful old dog in her dying days, a touchstone of grace lacking in her human family.
The basics of Draper’s story hold promise, but the film derails because Jack and Oliver just aren’t charming as social pariahs. They’re jerks incapable of the slightest decorum, whether at the dinner table or a backyard party with friends and neighbors celebrating Stella.
So what happened that undercut Draper’s good intentions in working with family? It could be she and her sons used a kind of shorthand in their collaboration, and choked off deeper exploration and richer possibilities for these characters. A different cast might have found its way, through development of the characters’ relationships, to make “Stella’s Last Weekend” what it could have been.
★½ “Stella’s Last Weekend,” with Polly Draper, Nat Wolff, Alex Wolff, Paulina Springer, Nick Sandow. Written and directed by Draper. 102 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Opens Oct. 26 at the Varsity.