I spent the majority of Neil LaBute’s Dirty Weekend with my glasses pushed up to my forehead and my thumb and forefinger crammed into my eye sockets. Recently cringe comedy has dominated large swaths of American media: Steve Carell’s antics on the American version of The Office; Sacha Baron Cohen’s trifecta of mincing ethnic and sexual stereotypes; virtually everything Louis C.K. and Lena Dunham have ever worked on. The list goes on and on. But what Dirty Weekend failed to take from these examples was that the cringe was a means to an end: comedy. Dirty Weekend is an almost astounding achievement of comedic coitus interruptus: we cringe and we cringe and we cringe and we cringe and yet we never actually get around to laughing.
The film centers around Les Moore (Matthew Broderick) and Natalie Hamilton (Alice Eve), two work colleagues stranded in Albuquerque after their flight to Dallas is canceled. Les and Natalie occupy a bizarre existence wherein they simultaneously interact like a pair of lovers on the tail-end of a souring marriage while also seeming like they literally met for the first time in the Albuquerque luggage terminal. They share the rich chemistry of two actors blue-screened together from footage shot thirty years apart. Broderick is in full neurotic asshole mode—think Woody Allen or Larry David without the wit or charm—and spends most of his time deliberately choking on his lines. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise, considering that much of his dialogue consists of such bon mots as “It’s all fun and games until someone sticks a spear in your ass” and “I’m paying in Yankee dollars”—this last one being spoken to a Native American shopkeeper. Les Moore may actually be the most annoying character Broderick has ever played; he makes Nick Tatopoulos seem like Ferris Bueller. Meanwhile, Natalie Hamilton is the cobbled conglomeration of every American writer’s conception of prim and curt British women: sickeningly fastidious and mannered, she is never less than arm’s reach from a good eye roll and a tired put-down about how repressed and stupid American men are.
To be entirely fair, I admire what the film could have been: a mature reflection on sexuality and relationships that doesn’t adhere to the tenants of the Hollywood rom-com. It isn’t long before Les confesses that a year or so ago he cheated on his wife with an illicit rendezvous at an Albuquerque gay bar. He can’t remember if the person he slept with was a man. Even worse, he can’t remember if he liked it. So the two go on a mini quest of sexual re-discovery where they retrace Les’ steps while revealing their various fetishes, hang-ups, and issues. But instead of focusing on two mature, if broken, adults trying to make sense of life, sex, and relationships, LaBute focuses on uncomfortable jokes that wouldn’t pass muster on a public access television show—a stoner taxi driver refers to the Shakespearean drama Henry V as “Henry Vee”—and a story which inevitably leads to Les having an awkward incestuous threesome with a cross-dressing brother and sister.