Watching a Neil LaBute film, audiences probably know that they're signed up for a bit of provocation. He takes on some of the most sensitive topics of mainstream culture — body image, gender relations, sexuality — often with a cynical air (leading Indiewire to declare him America's own Lars Von Trier). So his latest effort, Dirty Weekend, seems quite sweet by comparison. It's a breath of fresh air that finds Matthew Broderick played a man named Les Moore and Alice Eve as Natalie Hamilton, two business people waylaid in Albuquerque by a cancelled flight. A year before, Les had disappeared in the same city for a night of infidelity he can't remember, right down to the gender of his one-night stand. Now, back there for the first time, he and Natalie set out to find the mystery woman — or man — and undergo a kind of bonding process at the same time. The film is so understated and earnest it might as well be real life, but is Dirty Weekend based on a true story?
In short, no, but the title comes from LaBute's recollections of working in England. He heard the idiom "dirty weekend," which describes a secret getaway for a tryst with your significant other — or someone else entirely. "Oh that’s a good one! That’s a good title," LaBute told Way Too Indie, "But what’s a story that goes with it?" He worked backwards from the title, filling in the backstory. It was initially plotted in London, but then moved to Albuquerque due to budgeting constraints. Still, Alice Eve's Natalie explains the British-ism. Though she does "a very credible American dialect," LaBute explained, he decided to go with her native accent to make the title and its explanation more plausible. But he reinterpreted the idea of "dirty weekend" into a full-length, soul-searching narrative.
LaBute has drawn on outside material for his films and theater work in the past. It's not always "Based on a true story," but he has adapted novels and previous films as well as reinterpreting real-life events. (He also directed a film adaptation of his own play, The Shape of Things, though it starred the same cast as the original theatrical run.)
Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Aaron Eckhart, and Jennifer Ehle star in this film about two academics' attraction to the hidden romance between two Victorian writers. Their own relationship develops as they uncover clues that point to the affair between Northam and Ehle's characters. It's based on a Booker Prize-winning novel of the same title by A.S. Byatt. LaBute told Indiewire that he aimed more to capture the novel's aura than precisely translate its narrative. Possession is romantic and at times "sweet," much like Dirty Weekend — and it was similarly described as a stylistic anomaly for LaBute. It had a bigger budget, a flashier cast, and a more prestigious source material than his previous work.
Death At A Funeral
Just three years after the British Death at a Funeral premiered in 2007, LaBute directed his own adaptation of the film. His cast includes Chris Rock and Tracey Morgan, but he did recruit Peter Dinklage (now of Game of Thrones fame) to reprise the same role he played in the English film, under a different name. LaBute told Filmmaker Magazine that adapting the film was actually Chris Rock's idea, and LaBute was approached about directing the remake after logistics had already been secured.
The Wicker Man
In the same Filmmaker interview, LaBute described his Nicolas Cage horror flick The Wicker Man as perhaps the opposite of Death at a Funeral. "I think The Wicker Man was sort of the opposite of how I went into this picture," he said. "I actually really liked The Wicker Man but never felt it was a terrifically made picture." Both were adaptations, and LaBute noted that he's been offered multiple opportunities to adapt his own play Fat Pig to another medium. But LaBute added — "Ultimately I found it was everybody’s favorite horror movie or whatever." Or whatever.
Lakeview Terrace pretty much sums up "stranger than fiction." It would be outrageous if it weren't so dark, and so real — a cop, played by Samuel L. Jackson, harasses his new neighbors (Kerry Washington and Patrick Wilson) ostensibly just because their marriage is interracial. Lakeview Terrace is based on the story of John and Mellaine Hamilton, who were constantly harassed by their ex-LAPD officer neighbor. But filmmakers did not discuss the adaptation with the real-life players involved in the dispute, according to Pasadena Weekly.
Several of LaBute's films — Some Girl(s), The Shape of Things, for example — have been adaptations of his own plays. He told Interview Magazine that he considers a play to be a constant work in progress, malleable and open to evolution with each new performance (in stark contrast to a film). But he also has a strong record of adapting other people's materials into his own films. Dirty Weekend isn't one such case, but its down-to-earth realism likely comes from LaBute's experience in working on artistic renderings of outside sources, both real and invented.
Images: Falcon Films; Focus Features; Screen Gems (2); Warner Bros.