Combustible Celluloid
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With: Nat Wolff, Alex Wolff, Polly Draper, Paulina Singer, Nick Sandow, Julia Macchio, Julia Abueva, Leo Heller, Lisa Darden
Written by: Polly Draper
Directed by: Polly Draper
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 102
Date: 10/12/2018

Stella's Last Weekend (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Dog Gone

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This effective indie comedy-drama unravels a bit in the end as it attempts to wrap up all of its conflicts, but before then it's a rowdy, touching, keenly-observed slice of life.

In Stella's Last Weekend, Jack (Nat Wolff) returns home from college to attend a farewell party for his beloved dog, Stella, who is old and sick and scheduled to be euthanized. In the subway, he spots a girl, Violet (Paulina Singer), that he was in love with but who refused to return his calls. Later, his younger brother Oliver (Alex Wolff) introduces his new girlfriend to the family, and it turns out to be Violet.

While at a party, a misunderstanding between Violet and Jack is cleared up, and she realizes she's still attracted to him. Over the course of several days, as they try to spend time with their dog, tensions arise between the brothers, as well as between their loving, pushover mother Sally (Polly Draper), and Sally's well-meaning, dopey boyfriend Ron (Nick Sandow). Unfortunately, everything comes to a head at the party. Can the brothers make everything right again?

Written and directed by Polly Draper, who also plays the mother character, Stella's Last Weekend doesn't shy away from complicated parent-teen relationships, and, in fact, relationships of many kinds. The Oliver character has turned into a sometimes rude, sometimes funny, extrovert, who claims that he has his mom "working for me." He shakes things up with his completely uncensored comments, while wearing his emotions on his sleeve (the actor Alex Wolff was also quite powerful in Hereditary).

The other characters are perfectly matched to him; his mother laughs at his comments and gives in to his demands, while Ron can only be exasperated and ineffective; he does not have a natural-born father's powers. Jack is the movie's entry point; he's the quietest, but Violet can seem a little flighty, a little fickle.

Draper's visualization is assured and unflashy, with subtle moments such as characters gazing at each other through the windows of an arcade claw machine. Many scenes, especially those involving the old, motherly love bug Stella, will cause viewers to reach for the tissues. It's too bad it ends like a series of check-boxes, but Stella's Last Weekend is still well worth seeing.

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