Stella’s Last Weekend
Polly Draper achieves a delicate balance in Stella’s Last Weekend, blending real-life family dynamics with a fictional narrative to create an achingly funny exploration of loss. This showcase for her sons Nat and Alex Wolff is a far cry from The Naked Brothers Band, the boisterous Nickelodeon series she created, which co-starred their father, pianist/composer Michael Wolff. The precocious musicians went on to play numerous awkward teens, and now reunite as bantering brothers who have both fallen for Violet (Paulina Singer).
Writer/director Draper emphasizes their natural chemistry and intense bond, even when they have separated: Nat’s Jack went off to college, while Alex’s Oliver is finishing high school at home in Queens. As their single mom Sally, Draper displays a befuddled admiration for her sons’ quick-witted frankness, and their no-holds-barred family discussions unnerve her boyfriend Ron (Nick Sandow), who is accustomed to a strict demarcation between parents and children.
Draper captures the kind of loving openness that binds together families when the two qualities truly coexist. These oversharers also practice a protective kindness that cushions their harshest interplay. Finding herself alone with Violet, Oliver’s new girlfriend who harbors feelings for Jack, Sally growls a mama bear warning about hurting her cubs, but when Singer breaks down in teary confusion, Draper jumps to her side with comforting female solidarity.
There are moments when Draper’s rom-comy drama slips into sitcom glibness, but the most absurd setup – a cheery celebration of their terminally ill dog Stella – is surprisingly poignant. Even members of a family who talk this much can avoid serious conversations, and surprise each other with grief-fueled flashes of wisdom.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on October 12, 2018 by Paladin
First published in LA Weekly, 2018