Neil LaBute's films were always morbidly gay-ish. Your Friends and Neighbors seemed morbidly obsessed with Jason Patric's hyperthreatening masculinity; The Shape of Things made-over Paul Rudd like a diabolical fashionista; and LaBute's debut film In the Company of Men morbidly idealized Aaron Eckhart's arrogant WASP machismo.
Now, after 20 years of innuendo, LaBute has finally made a film that's almost open about gayness in Dirty Weekend. That title tells us he's still conflicted and the plot -- Matthew Broderick and Alice Eve as Les and Natalie, coworkers who reveal personal secrets while on a weekend business trip -- points to the stress of gay self-acceptance.
Alas, Dirty Weekend is not full of celebratory dirty jokes but it is less joyless than other LaBute films and plays (no wonder the lead character is named Les). Too bad LaBute's imagery is typically inert. (Why must a gay bar look like an airport lounge? Why must a free space -- a place of freedom --also resemble a vacuum?) LaBute's scenes evoke pages of dialogue rather than visual, sensual cinema.
In this alienating, void-like America Les and Natalie's back-and-forth emotional dynamic is routinely unsettling, with an emphasis on taboo words (like "sodomy") that, in theater, passes for linguistic audacity. LaBute expresses emotional tension by being morally smutty--not just about sex but about hypocrisy, cruelty.
Punishment remains LaBute's means of sexual appeal; his sadistic films strike back at the decades of sexual advancement and possibility that men, women -- but especially gay men -- had brought to popular culture. LaBute specializes in backlash in order to provide a critically-lauded place for the most flamboyant "sophisticated" person's guilt and misgivings. How ironic when today's worlds of theater, film, pop music and TV put such a desperate, grinning face on sexual equality.
Eve's Natalie projects a Nicole Kidman-type, lipstick lesbian severity. "We have to protect the ampersand like Butch & Sundance," she says when suggesting that she and Les maintain their other-sex solidarity (it's LaBute's Brokeback Mountain insinuation). And Broderick redoes his Election hypocrisy; he's good at it, showing a touching weakness. Yet LaBute still punishes.
In Dirty Weekend's third act, when LaBute's sexual guilt extends to trans/female identity, it holds as much misogyny as Alex Ross Perry's Queen of Earth has gynophobia. When Les regrets, "I'm too mature to be searching," he's told: "Most people I know are searching." But LaBute can't quite get poignancy out of a sex-worker's advice or his lead character's denial of self. (What generation does Les belong to that he knows nothing about sexual fluidity?) There's no closet like a filmmaker's closed-mind.
Is Dirty Weekend a new beginning for LaBute? He'll need to ditch the gay teasing and moralizing to go forward.
Dirty Weekend is in select theaters. Watch an exclusive clip below: