It’s lucky for Zadie that she’s funny, because her talent for cracking jokes about being a hot mess seems to have reached its real-world breaking point. It’s also lucky for Zadie that she’s played by Sasheer Zamata in Stella Meghie’s fun but slight romantic comedy “The Weekend,” as the former “SNL” star is charming in a tricky role, balancing Zadie’s more unlikable characteristics with winking humor.
Zadie’s foibles are on full display in Meghie’s energetic introduction, focused on Zadie taking the stage to unburden her romantic troubles in a stand-up set that would feel like over-the-top exposition if the director and her actress didn’t play it so damn well. It’s a zippy way to get to know Zadie, from her prodigious ability to poke fun at herself to her stalled-out love life, marked by a bad breakup nearly three years earlier. Zadie is still not over it, and it’s easy to see why when we soon meet the object of her affection and obsession: long-time pal Bradford (Tone Bell), who is taking this “let’s stay friends” thing to wild new limits.
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Bradford and Zadie might be on the outs romantically, but the pair are still tight enough that Bradford wants Zadie to get closer to his current girlfriend, the prissy Margo (DeWanda Wise), thanks to an ill-advised weekend trip with both women to Zadie’s parents’ B&B. Meghie’s lean script is never preoccupied with spoon-feeding information, but the basic premise of “The Weekend” begs for more information, if only because it’s such a strange one. Sure, it’s possible that Bradford (and, by extension, Margo) don’t realize that Zadie is so obsessed with her ex that she’s built her entire act around him, but her attitude toward Margo is unmistakable.
In short, they’re asking for trouble in this chamber piece, and they’ll get it. Mostly set within the confines of the (quite appealing) vacation home, Meghie soon other key players: Zadie’s eagle-eyed mother (Kym Whitley) and a handsome single guest named Aubrey (“Insecure” star Y’lan Noel), who inevitably becomes tangled up in the uneasy trio’s dramas. Meghie is adept at sliding between subplots and mixing her characters into talky combinations, all the better to maximize the film’s slim 86-minute running time, but it’s Zamata and her Zadie who steal nearly every moment.
Deadpan in her delivery and facial expressions, Zadie is indeed a mess, but she’s working her way toward something better, and Meghie’s frisky comedy gives her the space to make some strides. As the weekend amusingly crumbles around her and the rest of her cohorts, Zamata tentatively approaches something like maturity (and definitely like getting the hell over Bradford), giving shape to a mostly freeform narrative. “The Weekend” is hardly the sort of film to ask for a sequel, but the film’s pleasing conclusion hints at more to come for Meghie, Zamata, and even Zadie. Next time around: “The Week”?
“The Weekend” premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.