This upper-crust melodrama takes plenty of stumbles, and ultimately feels as ephemeral as one of those quickly churned-out old-Hollywood meltdowns starring Bette Davis or Joan Crawford. But it provides a strong showcase for the sadly undervalued Patricia Clarkson (The Station Agent). She plays Celia Green, matriarch of a well-to-do family that’s gathering for the weekend at the Northern California lake house owned by her and gruff husband Malcolm (Chris Mulkey). (Cinephile trivia: This is the same location where Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor made googly eyes in 1951’s A Place in the Sun.) The couple’s sons, Theo (Zachary Booth) and Roger (Joseph Cross), arrive with guests and dilemmas in tow: Openly gay Theo has brought along his new boyfriend, Luke (Devon Graye), whom he seems strangely embarrassed to be around, and Roger is desperately trying to avoid telling his family that he just lost his finance job due to a trade gone wrong.
In other words, it’s a big ol’ helping of first-world problems, and there’s plenty more where they came from. Like the plight of Roger’s wife, who wants to pitch her flavored-water-bottle line to Malcolm, or the issues that arise for the whole family after its live-in Hispanic caretaker accidentally electrocutes himself. And how many of those hand-woven baskets (a mulled-over plot point) should someone really buy at the local farmers’ market?
The character motivations may be myopic, but the performers are all adept at suggesting an affluent clan coming undone. You get the sense that there have been plenty of weekends like this before for the Greens, and many more to come. A family doesn’t fix itself after one overdramatic blowout. In the center of this moneyed whirlwind is Clarkson, bringing truth to every gesture and absolutely nailing her character’s soul-baring climactic monologue, which you wish she was performing in an overall stronger film.