Watching someone die in 'Two Weeks'

Times Staff Writer

"Two Weeks," written and directed by Steve Stockman, is the story of a woman dying from ovarian cancer and her four adult children as they gather at her Wilmington, N.C., home for what they believe to be her final days. The loss of a parent is difficult under any circumstances, and a movie that dares to take on the situation as its premise enters territory where maudlin and saccharine are common enemies.

Stockman, a veteran of TV commercials making his feature debut, mostly avoids those two pitfalls but otherwise stumbles in his attempt to deal with this complex emotional scenario. Despite striking a chord in terms of sibling politics and the inelegant ways we deal with death, "Two Weeks" too often feels as if it's destined for heavy rotation on the Lifetime Movie Network.

And though the movie is being released for a one-week Oscar qualifying run -- seemingly pegged entirely to the performance of Sally Field, whom academy voters have liked well enough in the past to twice vote her best actress -- it is unlikely the electorate will respond to (or even notice) "Two Weeks" amid the year-end logjam of films.

Field is perfectly fine as the doomed Anita Bergman, but the understated role seems artificially inflated by interspersed clips in which Anita's eldest son, Keith, a Hollywood filmmaker, interviews her for posterity. The segments do little to advance the story other than providing clunky exposition, which in some cases is at odds with what's going on in the movie.

Ben Chaplin plays Keith, the de facto protagonist, a rumpled, Zen-spouting, recovering alcoholic whose siblings ridicule him for eating tofu dogs. Keith's desire to remain detached is at odds with his dutiful sister, Emily (Julianne Nicholson), who has been devotedly on the scene for a while before she picks up Keith from the airport and plies him with texts from the death and dying section of the local bookstore.

The second brother, Barry (Tom Cavanagh, TV's "Ed"), a slick corporate type, impatiently arrives, expecting to make a quick exit, barely pausing to acknowledge his mother while perpetually talking business on his Bluetooth headset. Rounding out the quartet is younger brother Matthew (Glenn Howerton), who feels his older siblings don't take him seriously.

Needless to say, the reunion stretches out to the titular fortnight as the siblings attempt to comfort Mom and abide by her wishes to evenly divvy up the family heirlooms. James Murtaugh co-stars as Jim, Anita's second husband, whose growing annoyance with his stepchildren soon becomes something with which the audience can identify.

The characters remain undeveloped and, in the cases of Keith and Barry, are archetypes. Poor Matthew barely registers at all. And though almost everything interesting we learn about Emily comes via her mother's interview, Nicholson makes her the film's most grounded and compelling character.

Dramatically, the movie lacks focus, unfolding in episodic spurts in which the family bickers as prologue to their coming grief. The midsection of the film must have been cut severely because there is a flurry of secondary characters (including a cameo by Clea DuVall as Matthew's obnoxious wife), whose appearances in the film have little or no dramatic value.

Stockman's awkward attempts to inject dark humor into the proceedings are labored, and the banter is bland or sitcomish. The result is an ineffective would-be tear-jerker that proves the adage "dying is easy, comedy is hard."


MPAA rating: R for language, including some sexual references. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. Exclusively at the AMC Century City 15, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., (310) 289-4AMC.

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