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MOVIE REVIEW

Waiting for the end in 'Two Weeks'

"Two Weeks" follows the long tradition of films that put our national treasures on deathbeds. In the last 10 years, Meryl Streep , Diane Keaton , and Hilary Swank have wound down with a modicum of grace. "Two Weeks" adds Sally Field to the list. The cause is ovarian cancer, the occasion this creaky, earnest melodrama. But Field, who was the Swank of her day (radiant goodness made to qualify as talent), is a professional throughout the crudely titled, crudely made proceedings.

Not only does her character, Anita Bergman , have to suffer the ravages of cancer, but she also has to endure the descent of her four adult children on her North Carolina home. Keith (Ben Chaplin ) is the Hollywood guy (what in the film industry does he do?), and is meant to be quirky (he's a Buddhist). Emily (Julianne Nicholson) is the responsible one, never having moved far from home. Filling the obligatory spot of the workaholic robot son is Barry (Thomas Cavanagh ), whose cellphone is glued to his head and who really needs a DSL connection. Later, the youngest kid, Matthew (Glenn Howerton ), shows up with his unanimously disliked wife (Clea DuVall ).

Between helping Anita and deciding what to do with her furniture, the squabbling never stops. Meanwhile, Anita's second husband (Jim Cranston ) stands around and helplessly watches as the obnoxiousness takes over his home. Field looks appropriately wiped out for all of it. Although given how brittle, awkward, and completely uninteresting her younger co stars are, she could just be exasperated -- she's doing all the lifting.

Plopped randomly amid the bickering are home- video scenes of Anita reminiscing to Keith, who interviews her off camera. His requests are weirdly timed ("Tell me the story of my birth"). But who knows when they were filmed, since Field looks conspicuously fabulous in them?

The first-time writer and director Steve Stockman means well. His heart is in the right place but his screenwriting is somewhere else. Neither the Bergman kids nor their stepdad seem to have ever had a convincingly sincere moment with Anita. That sort of thing might happen in real life, but for a melodrama, which is what this movie is, there has to be some kind of emotional truth or, barring that, catharsis.

Instead, Stockman piles on plenty of scenes with the kids trying to fix their fractured marriages and pitiful attempts at comedy (see Barry arrested at the airport; see the predictable business with an urn). Anita, meanwhile, is treated like a creature from another planet. When she delusively talks to her dead father or a framed photograph, everybody looks bewildered. Emily explains how to handle this by reading from a book called "How to Die." It feels like "Two Weeks" was made from the same manual.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

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