Review by James Lindorf
Stella’s Last Weekend was written by, directed by and stars Polly Draper (Thirtysomething), along with her two sons, Alex Wolff (The Fault in Our Stars) and Nat Wolff (Hereditary). Jack (Nat Wolff) has had a bit of a rough year. He met a girl at a party who hasn’t returned a single phone call or text, his grades in college are slipping, and now he has come home to say goodbye to Stella, the family dog. Oliver (Alex Wolff), on the other hand, is having the best year of his life. He won a prestigious biology award, he is going on a trip to the Galapagos, and he has his first girlfriend. Paulina Singer (Gotham) plays Violet, Oliver’s girlfriend and the person Jack has spent a year pining for. The film also features Nick Sandow (Orange Is the New Black), Julia Macchio (Girl Most Likely) and, in the title role, Stella, a former rescue and newest member of the Wolff/Draper family. You can watch the drama unfold and say goodbye to Stella starting October 12th in New York and LA with additional cities being added later, or On Demand October 23rd.
Mother and sons have reunited for the first time since working together on The Naked Brothers Band in 2007, and this time Nat and Alex actually get to play brothers. The real-life relationship between the three brings a lot of natural chemistry that can only be earned over 20+ years of living and working together. Their unity as a trio increases the tension between the boys and their mom’s new boyfriend Ron (Sandow), adding to the feeling that it’s their world and he is just an intruder. Building on that awkward tension is the fact that Sally (Draper) is more concerned with the boys being her friend than being an authority figure. That duty then falls to Ron, again putting him at odds with Oliver, who thinks Ron is just a blight on his perfect life.
Nat and Alex are excellent here and have completely shed the Disney Channel style of acting, thanks to complicated roles here and in previous films. Jack, maybe solely by being older, is a more well-rounded character. He has dreams, fears, a passion of marine biology and he feels like a disappointment to his mother and younger brother if he doesn’t grow up to be just like the dad they lost to an unnamed disease. Oliver is king of the world and king douche at the beginning of the film, but as events begin to unfold, he becomes more grounded and is given the opportunity to be more than a one-note character. Draper as Sally was serviceable. She had some excellent moments and others that were just over the top, mostly centered around Stella and her final days. I am sure it made her proud as a director and mother to be outshined by her kids and the film’s two main characters.
My two favorite characters throughout the film were Violet and Ron. Sandow was able to do a lot in his silent moments and his glances at Sally about the way Jack and Oliver were acting. Then, when he did get to speak, he was always presenting the right message, but it was almost always in the most awkward, stepdad, new-to-the-family way. He was a great, down to earth contrast to the rest of the family who generally lived at an 11. Singer was also able to do a lot with a little. A side character even called it out when they asked, “Where is this coming from, Violet? You’re usually so quiet.” She is less of an active participant in the relationships, instead, the focus is on how each of the brothers interacts with her and how each approach could be preferred. Singer is given moments, particularly towards the end, in which Violet is allowed to express a little more and stretch her acting legs. Even in the times, she doesn’t have much to offer. She is charming, and it is easy to see why both brothers fall for her.
Stella’s Last Weekend hinges on your perception of Oliver and how he interacts with everyone else in the film. He is Mr. big shot who thinks he deserves everything he wants, is an immature influence on his brother, and very rude to both Ron and his mother. If you can look past this and connect with him, then you may love this film. If not, you will find his fall from grace to be too little too late to pull at your heart strings.