Overview: Three rich white people run around New York City complaining incessantly. 2014. YRF Entertainment. Rated PG-13. 86 minutes.
Wes, Is That You?: I once had a writing teacher who ran around the classroom chirping, “There’s a fine line between inspiration and theft!” I imagine The Longest Week writer/director Peter Glanz would have been the smug punk in her class brazenly copying the e.e. cummings poem we read the week prior, claiming it to be his own because he used his own fucking pen. The average movie-goer wouldn’t be hard pressed to identify Glanz’s influences. If the aim were to create a Wes Anderson-style film with Woody Allen characters, I would be inclined to deem it a smashing success in careful mimicry. But really, what’s the kindest word for “cheap, sub-par knockoff”?
In The Longest Week, Conrad Valmont (Jason Bateman), a privileged, ambitionless 40-year-old living off family fortune, sees his lavish lifestyle vanish, an inconvenient causality of his hotel mogul parents’ unexpected divorce. He is forced to move in with his slightly more attractive, only slightly more successful frenemy, Dylan Tate (Billy Crudup). A bored and directionless Conrad immediately steals away Dylan’s would-be girlfriend, young fashion model Beatrice Fairbanks (Olivia Wilde, pouting princess extraordinaire) and there we have our conflict: two wealthy, underachieving man-children bicker over a woman the audience is urged to think smart and intriguing because she reads Victorian literature on her subway commute. Jenny Slate’s character shows up for a few scenes in what seems to be an attempt to ground the film in reality, but her anchor is contrived, confusing, and certainly too little, too late.
Allen, too?: The film hints at satire but doesn’t quite convince the audience it knows what that is. It often employs its characters to clearly spell out what we ought to be gathering. The dialogue is painful; it often pairs words and phrases that make little sense and would never actually be uttered by a real human being regardless of circumstance. The beautifully symmetrical shots, perfectly ambiguous time period, and quizzical narration are clearly mooched from Anderson. I imagine Glanz gleefully shrugging at the notion of “show, don’t tell” because borrowing a Wes Anderson favorite (Larry Pine) for an unnecessary, unamusing narrator would better serve the almighty Anderson god. He flirts with hollow, damaged characters but lacks Allen’s range and finesse, not to mention his sophisticated, witty dialogue. He creates exquisite shots hanging on elaborate, meticulous sets but neglects the storylines or character arcs that grant Anderson success. He borrows from his idols but neglects to take the components that ensured their success. Glanz squanders the talents of Bateman, Crudup, and Wilde, who would have been far better served in an Anderson or Allen original.
The list of borrowed features from Anderson and Allen are unnerving and too numerous to mention. The scenes and characters pulled directly from Annie Hall and Manhattan in particular were uncomfortable to bear. Glanz knows all of this, though. Near the end, Conrad is questioned about his finally finished book, “How do you respond to the criticism that your novel is inherently derivative of the works of Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton?” He pauses but then offers a self-assured, “Thank you.” Clearly, that’s our answer.
Although: Despite his catapulting himself across the glistening line of homage and crashing in the land of wearing Wes Anderson’s face and bedding Woody Allen’s exes, Glanz shows moments of promise. Once he uses the skills I suspect he buried under this tribute piece (oh, look! I found that kind word after all), there might be something worthwhile there. His next film could easily earn this debut feature film a pass as a forgivable misstep on the path to finding his own voice.