Holding its Exposition till the End, The Last Day of August Sets Itself Up for Failure


The Last Day of August undertakes an enormous gamble, a risk assumed by films that withhold crucial information until the end: Will the audience accept the story “on credit”? A chamber drama set almost exclusively at a house in upstate New York, the picture concerns an intervention three friends (Sebastian Arcelus, Bill English, Vanessa Ray) stage for their alcoholic, wheelchair-bound college buddy, Dan (Michael Izquierdo). Backstory is obfuscated, so the audience is left to speculate about the source of narrative tension as Dan obstinately disregards his friends’ attempts to help. Belligerent and defensive, Dan’s one-note refusals to admit he has a problem are enabled by his new girlfriend, Shannon (Heather Lind), a “townie” who sees nothing unusual in Dan’s predilection for waking and opening another PBR. Consisting almost exclusively of long, drawn-out conversations, which are neither situated contextually nor filled with particularly fascinating dialogue, the film’s delivery system sets itself up for failure. It doesn’t help that charmless Dan is stuck in one mode—withdrawn bitterness—for almost the entire film. Since he isn’t charismatic enough to maintain our interest on his own, some exposition might have helped—but none comes, as the filmmakers keep the origin of Dan’s alcoholism a secret until the end. This withholding begins to feel like a contrived attempt at holding the audience’s attention.