Nights and Weekends Movie Review

If you prefer independent film -- real, do-it-yourself, independent film -- there's still hope in today's mega-budget world: a movement fondly called Mumblecore (see Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation). It's minimalist laid-back filmmaking full of revealing conversation, usually between twentysomethings rooting through their relationships and lives. Mumblecore standouts Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig follow last year's Hannah Takes the Stairs by co-writing, co-directing, and starring in this fascinating step in the movement's evolution.

Nights and Weekends removes practically all surrounding environment for its characters except two giant constructs: distance and time. Swanberg and Gerwig play James and Mattie, a young couple trying to make their romance work though he lives in Chicago, she in New York. Our introduction to this pair is remarkably efficient: With a single, fixed shot, James and Mattie enter an apartment and, without getting five feet past the door, breathlessly remove each other's clothing, small suitcase in the corner. No dialogue, but we get it.

When the couple finally does talk, it's a treasure. Swanberg and Gerwig are as good as any young actors out there (she especially), sharing the mundane and the important with no great pendulum swings in drama. All the while, the pressure and confusion of their short weekends together breathes just under the surface, and anyone who's ever suffered a long-distance relationship will feel the authenticity.

Both actors -- and their characters -- are willing to explore all the discomforts that come with love, and the sincerity (and nudity) is almost shocking by today's near-rote standards. When James devours a banana, Mattie bitches that it looks and sounds disgusting. As James continues eating, we're sure she's right, and love that such a ridiculous observation is in the film. Later, when the couple discusses facial expressions they've inherited from their parents, it's just as entertaining, but more welcome and intimate.

For those who need exposition in their movies, well, how much do you need? Compared to some other mumblecore features, Nights and Weekends does have a greater ebb and flow, but it takes a little work to catch before it's telegraphed. It definitely makes for a satisfying story arc, but if you're expecting a typical three-act romance, forget it.

But hey, who needs comprehensive story when you can examine interesting characters so exclusively? I can't recall a film with as much character insight as this one; not necessarily character development, but insight. There are plenty of films where the viewer acts as voyeur but, in this case, it's in extreme close-up (figuratively and literally) and with an unflinching eye.

Another step forward is Nights and Weekends' distinct play as an artistic film. In one of the film's final scenes, James and Mattie examine digital photos of themselves while wearing the same out-of-character clothing they wore when posing for the pictures. They're a version of themselves spying another version of themselves -- and they acknowledge it. It's a self-consciousness that's poetic, melancholy, and a little meta. The whole sequence is a thrill to watch.

As with a lot of (all?) mumblecore films, there's no musical soundtrack. Aside from financial considerations, the absence of audio actually works. The only sound accompanying the couple is from their own world, one of tight spaces -- hallways, apartments, a small hotel room -- and stumbling intentions.

After seeing Nights and Weekends, my wife and I began talking... and I had the odd feeling we were following the same cadence as the film's characters. Either the movie's tone is that affecting, or Swanberg and Gerwig's performances are that real. Either way, future entries in the genre have something to work toward.


Cast & Crew

Producer : , , Anish Savjani, Dia Sokol

Starring : , , Jay Duplass, Elizabeth Donius, ,


Nights and Weekends Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: NR, 2008


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