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Well-Drawn Characters Make for Enjoyable 'Weekend'


The strongest presence at a gathering at an upstate New York country estate in "The Weekend," a film as subtle and incisive as a New Yorker short story, is that of a dead man. Exactly a year has passed since the charismatic Tony (D.B. Sweeney) has died of AIDS. Handsome and charming, Tony was gay but was equally attractive to both sexes and didn't hesitate to string women along. They never got anywhere with him sexually, but that didn't stop them from falling in love with him.

This is especially true of the reserved yet sultry Marian (Deborah Kara Unger), the wife of Tony's half-brother John (Jared Harris), to whom the estate--a large and splendid Colonial-style home alongside a river--belongs. John has always been overshadowed by the glamorous Tony, but the half-brothers, raised separately, had formed a close bond before Tony died.

Marian, formerly an art restorer at the Met, considers Tony's lover Lyle (David Conrad), an art critic and historian, her best friend. The mother of a baby son, Marian has never really acknowledged to herself, let alone her husband, a quiet man of much perception and understanding, the depth of her unrequited, passionate love for Tony.

When Lyle arrives at the estate unexpectedly accompanied by a young painter Robert (James Duval) he met only three weeks before, Marian is thoroughly disconcerted. Clearly, she had looked forward to having Lyle's company all to herself on his first visit since Tony's death to commiserate with him on their mutual loss. For Lyle, Robert represents his first involvement after a long and painful ordeal.

Meanwhile, Marian and John's friend and neighbor Laura (Gena Rowlands), a worldly and formidable widow of a celebrated Italian architect, has been invited to the Kerrs for dinner. Out of the blue her daughter Nina (Brooke Shields) a B-movie actress, has arrived with her latest boyfriend, Thierry (Gary Dourdan), an animal wrangler on her current picture.

To be sure, Marian's carefully planned Saturday night dinner will bring various subterranean tensions to a simmer--but not a melodramatic boiling over. In the privileged, sophisticated world of Peter Cameron's novel, adapted for the screen with consummate skill by director Brian Skeet, people are fundamentally decent, highly articulate and capable of being honest with themselves upon reflection, prepared to face up to thoughtless cruelty, its source and its consequences. These people are able to look at situations and themselves in a fresh way from even a slight change in perspective; it doesn't take disaster on an epic scale to do it.

"The Weekend" has been bathed in a warm glow by cinematographer Ron Fortunato, keyed to the hues of the Fairfield Porter watercolors that are part of the opening credits. "The Weekend" is saved from seeming too neatly tied up by how well-drawn its people are and how equally well-played they are by a carefully chosen ensemble cast.

Rowlands takes over most every scene she is in, and not simply because she's a highly experienced actress; Laura is at once needy of attention and infinitely skilled in commanding it.

What's surprising is how well Shields holds her own with Rowlands, which gives their scenes together punch and conviction. By effective contrast, Harris, Unger and Conrad underplay while Duval is most persuasive. Seen only in flashback, Sweeney makes it crystal-clear why the shameless Tony was such an overwhelming presence. "The Weekend" is a small film of understated impact.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: language, adult themes and situations.

'The Weekend'

Gena Rowlands: Laura

Deborah Kara Unger: Marian Kerr

Brooke Shields: Nina

David Conrad: Lyle

James Duval: Robert

Gary Dourdan: Thierry

D.B. Sweeney: Tony

Jared Harris: John Kerr

A Strand Releasing and Granada presentation of a Lunatics & Lovers/Granada Film production. Writer-director Brian Skeet. Based on the novel by Peter Cameron. Producer Ian Benson. Executive producers Pippa Cross and Janette Day. Cinematographer Ron Fortunato. Editor Chris Wyatt. Music Dan Jones, Sarah Class. Costumes Edi Giguere. Production designer Bob Shaw. Set decorator Jacqueline Jacobson. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

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