I keep wanting to type long instead of lost for the title, I have a feeling this will be a hard review to write!
Screenplay By: Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder
Directed By: Billy Wilder
“And then one to counter balance the counter balance.”
It’s one thing to write slick and snappy dialogue. It’s another to be able to write slick and snappy dialogue and frame your entire movie around said dialogue while maintaining a constant veneer of reality. It’s been years since the world saw a new Billy Wilder film, and the world will never see another new Billy Wilder film, and that has left cinema with a great void. The Lost Weekend is a prime example of the type of craft Wilder brought to the screen and a representation of a skill level not seen in cinema today. Don’t get me wrong, there are great directors active today, some of whom I find to be better than Wilder. But, on a pure dialogue immersion point no director comes close to Wilder, maybe Preston Sturges, but he isn’t exactly making movies nowadays, is he?
If The Lost Weekend was only good because of its dialogue then it wouldn’t be an all time great, but it is an all time great. Even better than the dialogue is the theme, or content, of The Lost Weekend. I have heard the issue raised that The Lost Weekend was a frank movie for its time, but in the present day it loses most of its punch. I have to disagree with that sentiment, admittedly I wasn’t alive in 1945, but as someone who has lived with a couple of different alcoholics I can tell you that The Lost Weekend is just as powerful and honest today as it probably was in 1945. Alcoholism will never be easy, to go through, to understand, to dissect, to get over and to avoid falling back into. The Lost Weekend gives perhaps the most brutal and honest look at alcoholism that has ever been committed to celluloid, never for a second shying away from the tough subject matter at hand.
Topping the dialogue and the subject matter is the performance of Ray Milland. The rest of the cast is very good as well, but Milland is a tour de force of harsh reality in The Lost Weekend. He plays his character with an affecting charm as well as a brutality of personality. You don’t want him to go down the path he does, yet you know that he will and you can’t take your eyes off the screen no matter how many bad choices he makes. Milland has so many opportunities to fly off the rails, to turn his character into a caricature, but he never falters, he never loses sight of the honesty within Don Birnam. As the movie faded to black I was convinced that Don would write his novel, yet at the same time a part of me knows that he will pick up the bottle again. That makes me sad, and resigned, but it speaks to the great performance of Milland.
Alcoholism isn’t a joke, even if it can be played for laughs, and neither is The Lost Weekend. Some very big happenings in my life took place as I was typing this review, and yet as my fingers returned to the keyboard my feelings on The Lost Weekend immediately came flooding back to me. Whether today, tomorrow or yesterday, The Lost Weekend is a startlingly frank and bleak look at alcoholism and the people it affects. I can’t praise this classic from Billy Wilder enough, I was already a huge Wilder fan and The Lost Weekend reaffirmed why I love his work so much.