From left, May Pang and John Lennon.

‘The Lost Weekend’: A Scattered Portrait of May Pang’s Affair With John Lennon

The Chinese American assistant and executive narrates the film, but is it truly about her?

From left, May Pang and John Lennon.

Still frame from “The Lost Weekend”

Opening in theaters this week, The Lost Weekend: A Love Story allows Chinese American New Yorker May Pang—once assistant to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and eventually a record executive herself—to tell her own story about the eighteen months during which she and Lennon were romantically involved. The 97-minute documentary follows Pang’s initial professional involvement with the avant-garde duo, at the tender age of 19, before their marriage began to disintegrate. Eventually, Pang was practically hand picked by Ono to be Lennon’s new beau, though this would lead to its own complications. “I was 23 and my first boyfriend was John Lennon,” Pang recalls excitedly, early into the film, though it seldom captures the romantic or psychological intrigue of such an experience in its subsequent scenes, rarely extending beyond a distant chronicle of events already known to the public.

Pang may be the movie’s narrator, but The Lost Weekend doesn’t feel like it’s truly about her until she finally becomes the camera’s subject mere minutes before the closing credits. In concept, having Pang offer a counter-narrative to the accounts established by the influential Ono is cinematically intriguing. But with the exception of a few initial scenes—in which Pang describes her background as the daughter of Chinese parents in Spanish Harlem, and the ways her strict upbringing led to rebellious career in music—the film is a rote assemblage of existing interview footage and archival images, many of which have been aired on primetime television before. These also tend to whiz by like bats out of hell, with nary a pause for reflection.

The film isn’t about how she was seen in the public eye. It never offers the sense that there was an existing narrative about her at all, which she now hopes to counter.

The overarching result is far more logistical than emotional, let alone revelatory in any meaningful way. Even for those unfamiliar with Pang, the film’s constant invocation of the already widely known and widely publicized—such as clips from her 1988 interview with Geraldo Rivera on Geraldo—deflates the movie’s own importance, within the grand scheme of Pang supposedly controlling her narrative. The aforementioned Geraldo episode, intended as a gossipy hit piece, was one during which Pang would admirably hold her own, but the film isn’t about how she was seen in the public eye. It never offers the sense that there was an existing narrative about her at all, which she now hopes to counter. The Geraldo interview, and interviews like it, are treated largely as sources for clips in which Pang discusses her rendezvous with Lennon, but rarely are these interviews treated as events in her own life.

From left, May Pang, Julian Lennon and John Lennon.

Still frame from “The Lost Weekend”

These are all the things The Lost Weekend isn’t, which are unfortunately more exciting to discuss than what it actually is. Stylistically, it isn’t altogether uninteresting, opening with a flurry of grainy pictures—a photo-roman of memories—zipping across the screen. However, this isn’t just the style of the opening credits, but of the movie as a whole. With the exception of a few hand-drawn animated sequences (and a couple of sketches by Lennon himself), much of the runtime is dominated by dizzying montages of images and video clips sliding in and out of frame, rarely with enough consideration as to be more than historical artifacts. Pang, whose voice can be heard throughout, is tasked largely with recollecting events in chronological order, but the chronology itself is paramount. Rather than the emotional impact of any one event or dynamic (like her relationship with Lennon’s son Julian), the focus of her voiceover—and therefore, of the images tailored to complement it—is often the “who” and “where” of a given period in Lennon’s life, rather than the “how” or “why.” Superstar musicians like David Bowie and Elton John practically make Marvel-style cameos, showing up in photographs and narrated memories of their collaborations with Lennon, with little sense of the person Lennon was at the time, or what he and Pang (or he and Ono) may have been going through, beyond a few references to how involved each person was with the other in a given month or year. It’s a roadmap to a much more interesting story that never emerges.

It’s a roadmap to a much more interesting story that never emerges.

Directors Eve Brandstein, Richard Kaufman, Stuart Samuels evoke the feel of a modern celebrity doc crafted in the digital age—for instance, Amy Poehler’s Lucy and Desi, about TV stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, which takes a similar approach to using the texture of era-specific items in lieu of the late actors themselves—but The Lost Weekend fails to take full advantage of Pang’s involvement. In taking the most superficial approach to Pang “telling her own story,” the filmmakers cease to approach her as a human subject with a complex interiority. Instead, the movie uses her voice in the most literal possible way, without interrogating what she might actually have to say. From her narrations, it’s hard to avoid the sense that she’s a reluctant storyteller, and thus an ineffective one. It isn’t her job to dramatize or sensationalize, after all, but it is the job of those involved in making the movie to find the dramatic or the sensational within her words and memories, and to unearth their subtext, rather than picturizing her recollections practically verbatim, each set to a new popular music track from the era. It’s practically a jukebox documentary, though few songs in question have direct connections to Lennon or The Beatles.

From left, May Pang and John Lennon on a picnic.

Still frame from “The Lost Weekend”

Despite Pang being the ostensible storyteller, The Lost Weekend is a film that brings its audience no closer to an understanding of her, or of Lennon or Ono, beyond brief memories of things they may have said on a particular day. It’s a movie whose obsession with the words of its subjects prevents it from digging much deeper, into the true meanings of the things they said, or the events in their lives which may have once guided their words. There’s no tension between the verbal and the visual—no sense of artistry linking the words and images together in ways that evoke thoughts or feelings—but rather, a clunky doubling-up of the aural and visual, resulting in repetitive information that offers little insight into some of modern music’s most vital figures and the equally vital people in their vicinity.

In taking the most superficial approach to Pang “telling her own story,” the filmmakers cease to approach her as a human subject with a complex interiority.

If The Lost Weekend ever works, it’s only when it decides to use its camera as a tool to investigate Pang’s complex feelings, albeit for a handful of fleeting moments towards the very end, when she finally appears on-screen. But by then, it may be too little too late. The movie may be about her in these moments, but up until then, it rarely feels like it’s about anyone or anything in particular, beyond events one might already be able to read about online. Despite Pang being present for those moments in history, and despite her being both witness and participant, the film never affords its audience that same perspective or understanding—whether of Lennon, of Ono, or of Pang herself.

From left, May Pang and John Lennon at an AFI event.

Still frame from “The Lost Weekend”

Published on April 14, 2023

Words by Siddhant Adlakha

Siddhant Adlakha is a critic and filmmaker from Mumbai, though he now lives in New York City. They're more similar than you'd think. Find him at @SiddhantAdlakha on Twitter