Movies · Reviews

Two New Buddy Comedies Play With Bonding, Bondage and Tennis Balls

By  · Published on September 3rd, 2015

Falcon Films

Dirty Weekend and Break Point are both new comedies opening in limited release this week, but while they share something of a ‘buddy comedy’ aesthetic they couldn’t be more different.

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Les Moore (Matthew Broderick) and Natalie Hamilton (Alice Eve) are coworkers en route to an important business meeting who find themselves stuck in Albuquerque for an unexpected layover. The pair try to wait it out in the airport lounge, but Les grows tired of the stale surroundings and decides to head downtown to shop for gifts for his wife and kids. Natalie joins him only to suspect he has something else on his agenda.

It seems something happened last time he was in town – something he’s not at all discussing with her – and it’s left him with questions about his own identity. Natalie’s curious, and seeing that the secret is quietly torturing Les she makes an effort to engage him on the subject by sharing something hidden of her own too. They’re Butch & Sundance, and she takes it upon herself to protect the integrity of the ampersand regardless of Les’ attempts to distance himself from her.

Writer/director Neil LaBute has something of an unfair reputation as a filmmaker interested solely in highlighting the mean-spirited and caustic honesty men and women are capable of committing against each other and themselves. It’s an earned rep to be sure – In the Company of Men made sure of that – but it’s not the entirety of his interest. Dirty Weekend sees some orneriness and short tempers alongside frank discussions of sexual acts, but it’s ultimately a sweet tale about exploring and trusting your heart.

Les’ journey is a bumpy one, and Broderick keeps a tight grip on the wheel throughout. His comedic timing and delivery is on strong display here, but the laughs are more stringent than broad. There’s a defensiveness and confusion bubbling beneath Les’ surface, and Broderick wields his retorts and jabs as weapons fending off a truth he’s not ready to reveal or face. Eve plays somewhat of a second fiddle here, but she imbues Natalie with a matter of fact wit and a transparent desire to help Les along his path to self-awareness. She has her own baggage and her own moment of awakening, and Eve finds the spark within that illuminates Natalie’s needs as a human being.

Both characters are engaging, and while their secrets are neither shocking nor surprising we’re given enough of a reason to follow along with them to see where they’ll end up. Less successful though is the world in which LaBute’s script and camera drop them. No, not Albuquerque – at least not the real Albuquerque.

The side characters feel as if they exist solely as plot points or punch lines. Les becomes irritated by lackluster customer service, but while that’s something we’re all accustomed to here it feels wholly manufactured strictly to trigger some dialogue. The “troublesome” employees are either cartoonishly incompetent or perfectly acceptable making them feel more like planted setups than actual people populating a world. Similarly, repeated gags related to the city’s small size grow somewhat stale.

Dirty Weekend is a slight affair, and while it’s an enjoyable enough experience it’s probably not something you’ll be discussing come Monday morning.

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Broad Green Pictures

Jimmy (Jeremy Sisto) and Darren (David Walton) once ruled the tennis courts as a doubles team on their way up the rankings, but when an even better opportunity came along Jimmy dumped his partner – who also happens to be his brother – in favor of a guaranteed ticket to the majors. That guarantee ended up hitting something of a hitch in Jimmy’s own lack of professionalism and control, but while he’s been knocked back down he refuses to give up his dream.

He’s making a run for the U.S. Open again, and after a few years of false starts he’s decided it’s time to go back to the one person who brings out the best in him. Darren has left the tennis world behind and become a teacher, but the pull of the game is strong, and with a promise from his brother that this time will be different he steps onto the court one more time.

Tennis is the only sport I watch, the only sport I play, and one of the few sports where you can count the movies made about it on one hand. There’s Wimbledon, Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach, and… now Break Point. Even worse than the paucity of the selection though is the inconsistent level of quality. Where’s our Tin Cup? Our Bull Durham? Our American Flyers? (Note to self: send my brilliant tennis-related script to Kevin Costner.)

Sisto and Walton do solid, if unexceptional, work here as opposites constantly pushing and pulling at the other, but they’re made to fit far too neatly into their characters’ boxes. One brother is crass and wild, the other more restrained and laid back – and would you believe those personality traits come into play on the court just as they do in life? It makes it far too easy to see where the film and its two leads are going as they work their way back up the ranks towards earning a spot at the Open.

More distracting than damaging is director Jay Karas’ inability to choreograph and capture the game itself. There’s never any sense of the energy or suspense building on the court within and between each point, and the geography of the play feels non-existent as balls fly through the air and matches start and end with no real sense of what any of it means. We see them advance on the team board, but you wouldn’t know it from simply watching them.

It’s not a wash though as the narrative does manage one surprise in the third act, and the script (by Gene Hong and Sisto) provides some opportunities for humor. Sisto knows his way around a gruff asshole, and his interactions with Barry (Joshua Rush), one of Darren’s students, offer more than a few chuckles. It’s Rush who actually delivers the film’s biggest laugh though while attempting to learn the game by mimicking what he’s seen on television. Amy Smart and J.K. Simmons are on hand too as harmless characters who shuffle through the tale amiably enough just like everyone else.

Break Point isn’t a bad film – it sits somewhere between those two other tennis titles above – but it never rises above its very basic and generic setup to become a truly good one.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.