The Longest Week really wants you to know how smart it is. From its opening frames (analyst’s office, stuttered Allen-esque musings on Freud) the whole affair practically oozes snoot. You tread a fine line with these kind of films, running the extreme risk of completely alienating your audience with every achingly spacious apartment and pompous musing on theatre. Frasier and The Royal Tenenbaums did it right, and most recently, Mutual Friends did it wrong.
The line between charm and bemusement is fine, yet The Longest Week manages to dance all over it, then traipse it out into the parking lot and back again. Its smorgasbord of influences never really goes anywhere, alternately charming and irritating on its meandering way to nowhere in particular.
The titular week kicks off as Conrad Valmont (Jason Bateman) – a privileged manchild used to the finer things in life – is gently hurled out onto the street. His hotel mogul parents are in the midst of divorce proceedings after 30 years of gallivanting across the globe, leaving Conrad’s aimless and debauched lifestyle as a suddenly unnecessary and inconvenient expense. Crashing with his best friend Dylan (Billy Crudup) in his arty and heinously tasteful downtown apartment, Conrad sets about reinventing his life, primarily by pursuing Olivia Wilde’s piano tinkling fashion model.
That’s right, it’s that kind of film.
It was always going to be an uphill battle to feel sympathy for people living such enviably cushy lives. They seem completely isolated from regular, everyday 9 to 5 living, partying every night and leaving unlocked mopeds on the street come morning time. Our lead trio’s uppity treatment of Jenny Slate’s down to earth “average” person makes pretty uncomfortable watching, far from aiding The Longest Week‘s already problematic streak of elitism.
There is enjoyment to be had in some of the wittier ripostes and the film’s Anderson-lite visual palette, but the self-centered unrelatability of The Longest Week‘s main characters build a pretty sizeable wall between them and the viewing public. Yes, there is sadness in Conrad’s story – parental abandonment and inferiority complexes haunt his past – but even these sadnesses feel coated in a glowing entitlement held far from the reach of those who do not own a country house and were never packed off to etiquette school.
Bateman tries his admirable best – this is, after all, the man who made a foul-mouthed and abusive racist likable in Bad Words not too long ago – and it is to his credit that Conrad remains bearable throughout. We never really get a feel for this character though; Conrad is intensely fickle, to the point that his honesty and bravado are often confused. What about him is genuine and what isn’t? The film feels like an attempted study of an educated but misfiring mind, yet never provides us with any real insights, merely superficial voice-overs clunkily drawing comparisons between Conrad’s current situation and his vast back catalogue of cultural nous.
It all feels pretty slapdash, giving New York intelligentsia a light brushing of Wes Anderson while plucking ideas from all over the shop and refusing to hold on to any one of them for a considerable length of time. The jokes are hit and miss, too, with occasional chortles punctuating long periods of deadpan drama and with many lines trying just a little too hard to prove the film’s intellectual comedy credentials. Of course, you don’t go into to a hipster-tinged, low-key drama comedy expecting breakneck pacing and guffaw-a-minute gags, but The Longest Week is precision-less to an occasionally extreme fault. The fecundity of its characters feels like lazy writing rather than nuanced depth, the hollowness of its message a lack of care rather than a bold statement.
“Vegan fashion lines” and the like are mentioned in some of The Longest Week‘s less tolerable moments, at which point its characters lose their minimal grounding and float off into a vaguely irritating stratosphere of pseudo-hipster privilege. The film as a whole is unfortunately defined by this handful of glaring, snobby moments where even the universal likability of Jason Bateman isn’t enough.
It’s clever, but not as clever as it would like to think. It’s pretty, but not as pretty as it would like to think, and not funny or genuine enough to pull off its First World Problem packed plot. Occasionally a pleasure, often a pain, The Longest Week is a well-shot exercise in semi-amiable aimlessness.
Bateman charms, Wilde pouts, and nothing much else happens in The Longest Week's convoluted analysis of aimless privilege.