For many of us who grow up in comfortable lives, there comes a point when we should probably stop partying with the uncaring narcissistic abandon of those in their early twenties. (Unless, of course, you are a Matthew McConaughey character, but I digress.) The Matthews Brothers’ Lost Holiday takes place at precisely this moment, when a group of friends hovering on the edge of thirty have splintered apart based on their life choices.
Shot on gorgeous 35mm film, and using an unusual woodwind score (courtesy of Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha) that should not work, but somehow does, Lost Holiday brims with energy and shenanigans. It is a fleet, irresponsible joy of a thing, and above all, a middle finger to purpose, good taste, or any need for likeable characters. It eschews ‘checking its privilege,’ but does so in service of a highly entertaining disorganized crime caper awash in the banal social-morass of the early 21st century.
Here is my proposal of a cinematic trigger warning – one that might be added to any future poster of Lost Holiday: *WARNING* If you have previously seen, and failed to enjoy, Withnail & I, or anything directed by Whit Stillman, this film has no fucks to give for your inability to take pleasure in its existence due to our current cultural moment.
Margaret and Henry arrive back at their hometown of Washington (D.C), to visit their pals that have remained and are setting down. Margaret is in Grad school in New York City, and Henry teaches public school there. Between terms, they both have the stretch of time that is long enough to blow with their friends getting drunk and high. Not too many years ago, their squad would do crazy shit like break into a public pool after hours and enjoy a drunken midnight bacchanal on public property before the police arrived. Currently, however, their friends are getting married and having children. In the parlance of our time, they are well on the path towards ‘adulting,’ while Margaret and Henry continue to hit the snooze button (and the bong).
At a gathering to show off their friend’s new baby, Margaret is angry and disappointed to discover that her ex, Mark (The Good Place‘s William Jackson Harper) has settled down so quickly to a domestic prison, currently under construction. Perhaps worse, Mark is, more or less, completely fine with not blowing off his fiancé to hang out with his friends when whey are in from out-of-town to party hard.
Cut adrift, Margaret, Henry, and the addled loser of their group, Sam (Alex Ross Perry regular, Sam Poulson) end up at a local drug dealer intent on showing off his home-made sex tapes with a rich condo-developer’s pseudo-celebrity daughter (“nowadays, everyone needs a sex tape to get famous”) while they get high together and wallow in the realization that their holiday plans are washed out.
The next morning they hear on the local news that the wannabe Paris Hilton, who they saw just saw stripping down (and going down) on their dealer’s TV, has been abducted and held for ransom. Margaret and Henry steal Sam’s dilapidated red VW Rabbit convertible and decide to double-down on their current binge, while also taking a crack at solving the kidnapping case. You know, to liven things up. Poor decisions are made. Waggery ensues. It is a delight.
Kate Lyn Sheil brings a subtlety to a Margaret who remains unlikable for much of the running time. As the film ups the craziness, she reveals a likeability and pathos (dare I say, depth?) as things ensue. Sheil, it should be noted, has an interesting and versatile face for this sort of paradox. Co-director Thomas Matthews is a hoot evoking Richard E. Grant (the aforementioned Withnail in the trigger warning above) with his distinctive ‘chin and grin’. Henry knows he is white and male and smart and reasonably wealthy, and can get away with shit, just because. Annoying maybe, but these characters are never truly stupid though. Both are educated, worldly, and in spite of getting caught up in some dumb shit, they possess faculties and avenues of wealth to possibly dig their way out of the chaos-tourism they have embedded, and caused themselves. Maybe that is interesting as a plot device. Maybe a cliché. I think at our current moment, it is dangerous, possibly even rebellious in its own way. As art should be.
Lost Holiday is many things. There is an interesting ‘coming of age’ circle-of-friends drama here. In the 21st century, we come of age in our 30s by meeting disappointment and often ugly failure. The rich-side-poor-side locations of the District of Columbia (or from a people-side: socialite and deadbeat) are reminiscent of noir, and the goofball fish-out-of-water amateur-gumshoe variety recalls The Big Lebowski. The one-long-binge structure and grainy handheld film aesthetic reminded me of one of the best films of 2017, The Safdie Brothers’ Good Time. I wish more films were made like this. I seriously do. In America, they used to call them ‘art films’.