Austin Film Festival 2015: ‘The Week’ documents worst vision quest ever

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The following was written by Wes Eichenwald, special to the American-Statesman

Dick Romans (Rick Gomez), the fortysomething host of a TV talk show, has an onair meltdown one day, refuses to apologize, and – boom – no longer has a show. Fifteen months later, he wakes up one morning in his woodsy Northern California pad on the eve of his 10th wedding anniversary and finds a note from his wife Claire, who has split in the middle of the night and – double boom – wants a divorce. As if this isn’t bad enough, not long into the proceedings Dick falls off the roof of his house (a mishap involving shooting arrows; don’t ask) and spends the rest of the movie hobbled by a crutch and an orthopedic leg brace. One assumes it’s a metaphor.

Before splitting, Claire made elaborate plans for a week-long anniversary celebration. Dick, aimless sad-sack that he’s become, decides to go forward with it even though nearly all the guests don’t show. Dick calls it a “vision quest,” although it’s the Sonoma County version; instead of wandering in the desert, he boards a van and goes on a day tour of wineries. Among others, he hangs out with an atheist writer friend, a stoner tennis coach, and most notably, an affable but still wary caterer and possible love interest, Lenny (Joelle Carter), a single mom to a potty-mouthed 10-year-old boy and by far the most sensible character in the film . (A bit of trivia: Four of the actors, including Gomez, were in the cast of the 2001 HBO World War II miniseries “Band of Brothers.”)

Along the way, Dick and Lenny trade philosophies like “That’s what life is, right? It’s super-weird” as Dick wends his way from Picnic Day to Tennis Day to Expedition Day and so on to the inevitable finale, which is nicely handled.

“The Week” was co-written and directed by John W. Mann and Jon Gunn and co-written and produced by Gomez. The trio have collaborated for several years and were comfortable enough with each other to film the movie in a semi-improvised fashion, adding and changing elements along the way. “The Week” drags a bit in parts, but holds together enough to merit the “organic” tag the filmmakers wanted. It may document the worst vision quest of all time, but you can’t argue with the results.

As Dick, Gomez, who gives off a Steve Carell-ish uptight-hipster vibe, is virtually never offscreen. He does a commendable job in a demanding role requiring him to constantly project an air of combined outrage and detached amusement at the myriad indignities of life. Dick Romans can’t help being a talk show host even in his private life; it’s fun to watch him keep a running commentary going on whatever he’s doing at the moment, which is usually totally the wrong thing. He’s a hoot, as is “The Week.”

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