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A family gathers to bid farewell to a beloved pet in the wise & winsome 'Stella's Last Weekend'

A family gathers to bid farewell to a beloved pet in the wise & winsome 'Stella's Last Weekend'

Stella’s Last Weekend reflects the importance of being young and not knowing what to do. Set around the impending death of their family dog, Stella, two brothers learn that they have mistakenly fallen for the same girl and discover that nothing in life is as easy it seems. (KAC: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Katharine Cutler

Written and directed by Polly Draper, Stella’s Last Weekend is a powerful statement about what it means to be family. Despite revolving around two brothers accidentally falling for the same girl, the film represents something bigger: the importance of familial relationships, whether parent and child, siblings, or those with pets.

The film begins with ‘Jack’ (Nat Wolff) coming home from college because the family dog, Stella, has cancer. Jack reunites with his brother, ‘Oliver’ (Alex Wolff). Immediately, their chemistry is clear. They’re brothers in real life and Draper perfectly captures the banter that makes them brothers and not just friends. When Oliver’s girlfriend, ‘Violet’ (Paulina Singer), is introduced, it’s revealed that she was Jack’s summer crush that got away. An obvious tension builds between the brothers as they, and Violet, decide who she’ll be with.

Simultaneously, Stella, the family’s beloved dog, is set to be put to sleep. Mother ‘Sally’ (Polly Draper) has planned a party for her death day, wanting the family and friends to be there for Stella’s last moments. All the while, Sally’s boyfriend, ‘Ron’ (Nick Sandow), tries to bond with Jack and Oliver, hoping to become a part of their family, but sadly for him, they see him as just another one of Sally’s boyfriends and poke fun at him on a consistent basis.

Draper does an amazing job capturing the family atmosphere. From the siblings relationship to the parent and child relationship to the role of Ron as a not-quite-step-parent figure, Draper is able to capture what makes each relationship unique but also incredibly relatable. The banter between brothers, which was heavily inspired from Nat and Alex’s real life relationship, is so well written that we are in on the jokes, but still not quite in their heads.

While the concept of the two fighting over the same girl feels simple, Draper adds a level of complexity and maturity through her writing. Jack is in college, while Alex is in high school and their difference in ages adds to their actions but also affects their role in the family. Because their father passed away, Jack represents a pseudo-father figure for Oliver and is forced to be more responsible and mature. Oliver, on the other hand, is more wild and immature. These characters are easily their own, but their ability to blend together to make up siblings and best friends is impeccable.

Sally’s relationship with each boy is equally well explored. With moments where she gets high with Jack and convinces Oliver to sneak out to not embarrass her in front of Ron, each boy gets their own relationship with her. The nature of their relationship isn’t typical, often calling their mom a bitch in casual conversation, but something about it feels perfectly natural. Sally may be the best character in the film, as she presents as the most well-rounded. She’s sad and somewhat pitiful at times, yet strong and independent at others. Most films about teenage life tend to singularize parents as one thing or dismiss them all together, but this film incorporates Sally in a way where she perfectly complements each teenager and everything would be wrong if she didn’t exist.

Additionally, portraying teenagers without making fun of them, subconscious or not, is incredibly hard. Draper is able to portray each young man thoroughly without putting them down for their faults. Oliver is irresponsible in a classic teenage boy way, while Jack is irresponsible in an entirely different way. Each flaw is understood, without making them naive or making their issues stupid. Draper respects youth and immaturity in a way that’s rarely seen.

Of course, Stella, the dog, is fundamental and wonderful. It’s easy to insert a cute dog into a film and leave it at that, but this film incorporates Stella in a more meaningful way. Her role as the center of the family is very apparent. The story revolves around her impending death and the role that pets play in our lives.

Stella’s Last Weekend is a loving depiction of family, youth, and pets. Polly Draper writes and directs the film, casting her two sons to depict the two young men. Overall, the film is wonderfully written and carefully done. Each moment reflects her respect and appreciation for being young.

© Katharine Cutler (10/16/18) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Jack, Violet, and Oliver.

Middle Photo: A poster for the film.

Bottom Photo: Jack and Stella.

Photo Credits: Related Pictures.

 

Q: Does Stella’s Last Weekend pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

Yes-ish.

The film follows the two brothers, but does contain a meaningful conversation between the mother, Sally, and the love interest, Violet, about her feelings with the situation between the brothers. Otherwise, there are short conversations between Sally and another women about Stella dying, as well as between ballerinas and Violet about her dancing ability. Most of these conversations mention one or both of the boys, but revolve around the women’s lives.

Furthermore…

On Saturday, October 13th, I attended a second screening of the film and an accompanying Q&A with Polly Draper, Nat Wolff, and Alex Wolff. Seeing the film again only confirmed my feelings about it, but the Q&A was much more enlightening than I thought it would be.

I can’t remember who moderated it, other than that he was an older, white man, but the choice to make him the moderator has stuck with me. Many of Draper’s family friends came to see the screening and had comments to make afterwards. The moderator often favored these older adults to speak, despite the audience largely being women in the teens or early 20’s.

The entire situation reminded me of how young women, despite being the target audience for the film and being the audience that will financially support the film, are seen as unimportant. The screening and Q&A was advertised on the Nat and Alex Wolff’s Instagram and Twitter, so many young women came to see and support them. The moderator didn’t seem to care and largely ignored these women and their contributions.

The first question was asked by one of the only young men in the audience who raised his hand and the second question went to a man likely in his 50’s. After that, the questions were dominated by women above the age of 40 who were friends of Draper and her family. From my memory, there were only 4 questions asked by young women. Why do moderators not want to hear from young women, especially teenage girls?

A pleasant surprise came when the young women asked questions and Draper responded with more respect for their opinions than I have ever seen before. Her responses began with her opinions, but often ended with her asking about their thoughts and ideas. How would they have done it differently? Did they feel like something was missing? She genuinely cared about what these young women had to say and treated them with an enormous amount of respect.

Her responses validated their thoughts in a way I’ve never seen happen before. Largely, young women are pushed out of conversations about film (and many other ‘high’ arts) despite being a large part of many audiences. Polly Draper framed them as being as or more important than the moderator or the critics. Young women, especially teenage girls, should be respected like this more often.

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