What is the hardest genre for independent filmmakers to tackle and find success? I have no data on this, but the independent comedies rarely get glowing reviews. I’ll give you one big reason—comedies should make you laugh…out loud. Building on that, one mistake filmmakers make in a comedy is this idea that just because you have a humorous idea, like “Why are people so enamored with cat videos on the internet?”, it doesn’t mean that it’s a laugh-out-loud funny idea. We may smirk at the idea, but will we laugh? The skill becomes squeezing laughs out of that idea, and it is a skill requiring thought and effort in execution.
From writer/director Polly Draper, Stella’s Last Weekend has a humorous premise but smartly finds the laughs in its characters and the relationship between those characters. Stella’s Last Weekend refers to the family dog, Stella, who has cancer and is in a great deal of pain. Stella’s master Sally (Polly Draper) decides to throw Stella a death party to honor her life. Involved are her sons Jack (Nat Wolff), Oliver (Alex Wolff), Sally’s boyfriend Ron (Nick Sandow) and the other dogs from Sally’s favorite dog park.
“…an awkward love triangle between Sally’s sons Jack and Oliver, and Oliver’s girlfriend, Violet…”
Thankfully, the story isn’t about Stella at all. It’s about an awkward love triangle between Sally’s sons Jack and Oliver, and Oliver’s girlfriend, Violet (Paulina Singer). A year prior, before Jack went off to college, he met the perfect girl at a party. After exchanging phone numbers, that girl never responded to his texts or returned his calls. As you may suspect, that girl was Violet, and she is now in a serious relationship with Jack’s younger brother Oliver. No one knows this fact except Jack and Violet.
From here the plot is pretty standard, Jack still has feelings for Violet and doesn’t want to hurt his brother Oliver. Feelings, emotions, sex and it all comes to a head at the death party. Standard plot aside, the laughs in Stella’s Last Weekend comes from its odd and quirky lead characters, the hilarious moments involving these characters, and the clever way it integrates these characters and moments into its overall plotline.
Let’s talk characters. Brothers Jack and Oliver are played by real-life brothers, Nat and Alex Wolff. This is clearly the easiest performance of their careers in roles tailored just for them. Jack is the older, measured, more mature brother, who can be goaded back into his youthful immaturity when pushed by brother Oliver or life itself.
“…Sandow plays the foil reminiscent of Margaret Dumont and the Marx Brothers.”
Oliver is the younger high school teen. He is the kid, who always has something funny to say just shy of annoying. He never takes life seriously but manages to squeak out touching moments here and there. The relationship with their widowed mother, Sally, is just as funny. Maternal love and respect come in the form of clever teasing and ribbing, which pisses off boyfriend. The back-and-forth between the boys and Ron hitting on the theme of “you’re not my dad” is brilliant and inspired and worth the price of admission. Nick Sandow plays the foil reminiscent of Margaret Dumont and the Marx Brothers.
Balancing out the humor in this love triangle is Paulina Singer as Violet, the object of the boy’s affections. She mellows them out while extracting sweetness out of both characters. Violet does not play the voice of reason but is the catalyst of relational confusion. She loves them both, one more than the other, and can’t get herself to make a choice. The best moment of the film comes in a moment alone where Sally tells Violet if she ruins the relationship between Jack and Oliver, she’ll “f**k her up!”
Even with its predictable plotline, Stella’s Last Weekend made me laugh. Big guffaws throughout, sprinkled with little chortles to maintain its pace. That’s what comedies do, they make you laugh.
Stella’s Last Weekend (2018) Written and directed by Polly Draper. Starring Nat Wolff, Alex Wolff, Polly Draper, Paulina Singer, Nick Sandow.
8 out of 10 stars