“Can I not smile at my friend?” asks Bradford (Tone Bell), innocently enough to Zadie (Sasheer Zamata), as she gets into his car to drive up to her parents’ bed and breakfast in Stella Meghie’s splendid new film “The Weekend.” It’s a loaded question for his ex that gets even heavier once his girlfriend Margo (DeWanda Wise) piles into the car, and although Bradford and Zadie are three years removed from their breakup, he still finds his way into her standup act and she would seem to be the reason why he still hasn’t proposed to Margo, despite the two being serious for some time. It doesn’t help that when the three do arrive at the Queen and Country B & B, the instant dislike Bradford takes towards the only other guest at the inn, Aubrey (Y’lan Noel), a worldly photographer, seems to be inspired by jealousy as he starts to get close to Zadie.
For those who saw Meghie’s stellar debut “Jean of the Joneses,” “The Weekend” is the proper follow-up, a brutally funny and whipsmart comedy that goes so many places that few others have, even though it is largely confined to one location. (And since that film is shamefully difficult to find even two years after its release, most will understand why she was snapped up so quickly to make her major studio debut “Everything, Everything” a year later.) One force of nature seems to put the wind of the sails into three others, offering juicy roles to Zamata, Wise and Kym Whitley, who calls it as she sees it as Zadie’s mother, unhappy with her daughter for not taking more control over her life. The brilliance in Meghie’s script is that Zadie does carry herself with a swagger, training herself over time as a standup comedian to withstand the slings and arrows that come with the territory, but her witty comebacks that she deploys in her personal life have coarsened as a form of protection, preventing her from being as fearless offstage as she is on it.
Zamata, long one of “Saturday Night Live”’s most radiant performers, shrewdly uses her brilliance, both in effervescence and intelligence, to obscure, taking Zadie’s proclivity towards a bold remark followed by a self-congratulatory digression to reveal more when she’s trailing off than when she feels she’s making a major point. It is the reverse for Wise, who spends much of the film as Margo admiring Zadie’s audacity rather than be irritated by it, but stands up for herself when need be and instead of positioning them as adversaries for Bradford‘s affections, Meghie makes you wonder how he could keep up in a relationship with either, though the men are no slouches with Bradford and Aubrey both smart, sensitive if slightly clueless when it comes to the opposite sex and Bell and Noel make it so you can’t write them off.
As many different wavelengths as Meghie balances in terms of where her characters are in their relationships with each other, she shows a masterful command for rhythm and pacing, giving everyone onscreen the room to show where they’re coming from and as fast and furious as the punchlines fly, Meghie doesn’t miss a thing, nor do you, even though raucous laughter is bound to carry over from one scene to the next. “The Weekend” is bolstered by Robi Botos’ spirited pan-African score full of reggae and jazz and with Meghie’s eye for interior design as sharp as Nancy Meyers’, cinematographer Kris Belchevski and production designers Cindy Chao and Michele Yu do wonders in making every environment feel as alive as the writer/director’s vivacious dialogue in the hands of the gifted ensemble the film has assembled. Even if they may not always want to be in the same room with each other, Meghie makes it such a privilege to be in their company.
“The Weekend” will next play at AFI Fest in Los Angeles at the Chinese Theater on November 11th at 3:45 pm and November 13th at 3:15 pm.