Dinner Unstable: Field and Cavanagh can?t see eye-to-eye.
Dinner Unstable: Field and Cavanagh can?t see eye-to-eye.

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The sadness of a death is lost among jokes and bathos in writer-director Steve Stockman’s debut, Two Weeks. Most of the humor culled from this failed weeper about the torturous decline of a mom with ovarian cancer falls into the lazy it’s-funny-’cause-it’s-true! category. For instance, you know how when someone dies, everyone brings the bereaved family casseroles? Well, isn’t that hilarious? How about comments like, “This is the best family reunion ever!” No?

Stockman sure thinks so, and he awkwardly swings between yucks and melodrama. Sally Field plays Anita Bergman, a mother in her final days of life; as she receives home hospice care and gets progressively weaker, her four grown children come to stay with her until the end. Rather, three of them do: While the “Hollywood type” eldest, Keith (Ben Chaplin), Zen-wisdom-spouting youngest, Matthew (Glenn Howerton), and by-the-book goody-goody Emily (Julianne Nicholson) are willing to put their lives on hold for as long as necessary, all-around hotshot Barry (Thomas Cavanagh) is the “only one with a real job” and therefore, rather unbelievably, proclaims himself too busy to hang around. This is forced conflict No. 1. Forced conflict No. 2 centers on Matthew’s PYT wife, Katrina (Clea DuVall), who for no apparent reason is icy and out of favor with her in-laws (not to mention completely wrong for sweet, laid-back Matthew). The spouses and children of other siblings show up and disappear as needed.

Two Weeks—which, as you may have guessed, chronicles 14 days in the Bergman household—is framed by a video interview that Keith had presumably conducted with his mother during her better days. She tells stories about the family, none terribly amusing or touching. Between these snippets are scenes of Anita’s day-to-day life, from her children cleaning up after she vomits (once, this is set to jaunty music) to friends who come to say goodbye. Throughout, none of the characters feel real—the roles top out at one-notes and degrade to complete cartoons like an assistant rabbi, whose visit consists of yelling greetings to Anita and saying, “Why, she doesn’t need a prayer, she needs to get well!” The actors do what they can with this material, and as far as the recognizable stars, their success is subjective: With Fields, you probably like her (as she believes) or you don’t (as I believe), and Cavanagh, though his sitcom lives haven’t been terribly long, is perhaps forever pigeonholed. You can put the star of Ed in a suit, but you can’t make him an asshole.

Mercifully, there are a couple of genuinely sad but not mawkish scenes, including one in which Keith asks his young daughter what she knows about dying and another in which Barry, after mom passes, muses to his siblings, “Normal out, isn’t it?” But then Stockman wipes out any positives by veering from mournful to slapstick to melodramatic all in the final shot. From inception to finale, Two Weeks dies a slow death.