X

Leighton Meester and Sarah Alderson Unpack the Misogyny That Leads to Murder in and New Ending of 'The Weekend Away'

Sarah Alderson adapted her 2020 novel for Netflix, but this time things don't end on a cliffhanger.
by Danielle Turchiano — 
twa-unit-02158-r.jpg

From left to right: Christina Wolfe and Leighton Meester in 'The Weekend Away'

Netflix

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for The Weekend Away. Read at your own risk!]

A few years ago, author and screenwriter Sarah Alderson was away for the weekend with her best friend when she suddenly wondered what she would do if her friend went missing on the trip. They were in another country (Portugal, to get specific), and the creative wheels in her brain begin to spin. Luckily for her friend, the trip ended without any such complications. Even luckier for Alderson, she had the premise of a new novel, The Weekend Away, which was published in July 2020 and which she recently adapted into a Netflix film of the same title.

Leighton Meester stars as Beth (previously known as Orla in the novel), a new mother who leaves her baby at home with her husband (played by Luke Norris) for the first time to visit her friend Kate (Christina Wolfe) in Croatia in the film. After a night of drinking, dancing, and meeting strange men, Beth awakens in their Airbnb-style accommodations to find blood and debris, but no Kate. She then springs into action to try to figure out what happened to her friend, reporting it to local police, who brush it off as a party girl losing track of time, before she sets out to investigate on her own.

Unfortunately it doesn't take too long to learn Kate is dead, and Beth's relaxing weekend turns to an adrenaline-fueled journey that includes confronting her friend's secrets as well as parts of her own life that are less-than perfect.

"The first thing that I saw of it was 'a 35-year-old with a 10-month-old,' nearly exactly me at that moment," Meester tells Metacritic of the role. "She was journeying through motherhood for the first time and finding herself in all the ways that changes you — the body, your career, your marriage, your confidence. She goes for this supposedly very freeing weekend away, but was that even the reason for going in the first place? I feel like that's what she carries with her, and that's what I carry with me as well."

Beth struggles to remember the events of the night she last saw her friend, which forces her to confront how much danger she may have been in that night, how much danger she may still be in, and whether she was a danger to anyone. Her faulty memory makes her a bit of an unreliable narrator at first, but as more information comes back to her, she is smart and selective about who she shares information with and when.

"What we wanted to do was make sure that everyone could essentially be a suspect, but we didn't want the audience to think that Beth may have done something and was pretending," Alderson tells Metacritic. "They take her passport and then the panic starts to set in, and then there's that crux moment where she realizes, 'Oh, goodness, I have a motive and if the cops find out about that motive, then I'm in really big trouble.' And so, just all these external pressures coming in, and she's got to stay one step ahead to try and outwit the police and try and figure this thing out before it becomes too big."

For Meester, this created a unique acting challenge in portraying levels of survivor's guilt with fear and a dogged determination. The key to finding the right times to let out each emotion, she says, was to "be in the moment and try to feel the truth of the moment," and then to trust the filmmakers to balance it all in the editing process.

"I think that there is a fascinating, albeit incredibly frustrating, undercurrent of the desperation to be believed, to be looked at as innocent until proven guilty — and as a woman, especially — to be taken seriously. From the get go, even sitting there across from the wonderful actors who portrayed the cops, you do get the sense that she's not being taken seriously; she's not being listened to; she's being accused of, at the very least, being irresponsible. And meanwhile, she knows something's wrong, it's her gut," Meester says.

Alderson, who is British, felt very strongly about shining a light on different kinds of misogyny within this story, from the physical violence against Kate that leads to her death, to the objectification by the men that surround them, and the way both Kate's case and Beth as a potential witness are treated.

"I'm not pointing a finger at any one country because I think this is a global issue," Alderson notes. Beth "isn't sure at the top if she's been drugged, and I think there's a fear that if she voices it, it becomes real. And she wants to get the evidence first, and then when she mentions it, it snowballs, and then she's accused of lying. And then they twist her words. And so, she's really frustrated. And I think she's doing her best but feeling like, 'Well, they're not taking this seriously. I'm going to go out there on my own.'"

Additionally, "I was very keen that Kate doesn't come across as someone who we should condemn," Alderson continues. "She is this wild, party-loving [woman], but she's not evil; she's not a bad person. Beth says to the cop at the end, 'She didn't deserve this,' and I thought that was really important because even after what's happened, she's still able to say [that]. They weren't doing their job looking for her because they'd already assumed who she was. I think happens a lot."

Although it is rare for authors to adapt their own work for the screen, Alderson has years of screenwriting under her belt, most recently working on CBS' S.W.A.T. Her management company, 42, had a deal with Netflix, and she immediately wanted to pitch the streamer The Weekend Away.

"I always write my books like long-form screenplays," Alderson says, adding that she thought of this one as a "fast-paced thriller movie from the beginning."

She did make some changes along the way, such as the character of Orla becoming Beth because the team wanted to cast an American actor in the role, Alderson says, as well as moving the setting from Lisbon to Split, Croatia for logistical reasons — a combination of budget and filming restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The biggest change doesn't come until the end of the film, where she decided not to leave the story on the cliffhanger on which she ended the novel.

"I definitely felt with this film I wanted to tie things up more neatly," Alderson explains. "It was more about wanting to satisfy the audience for me and also, wanting to make sure that Beth, the main character, has a sense of closure at the end. You really root for her the whole way through, and I felt like, if I left her on a cliffhanger and we weren't coming back, it would be unfair to the audience and to her."

Meester, who shares she read the novel only after she did the movie, calls the ending "bittersweet."

"There could be a certain amount of closure, having the perspective and the knowledge that she has [but] her best friend died and she was there, and so, there's no good ending with that," she explains.

But there certainly is a lot to think about.

The Weekend Away is streaming now on Netflix.