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DVD Review: NIGHTS AND WEEKENDS
Studio: IFC Films
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Joe Swanberg, Alison Bagnall, Elizabeth Donius, Jay Duplass, Kent Osborne, Lynn Shelton, Ellen Stagg
Director: Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig
Release Date: August 23, 2009, 12:54 pm
Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, language)
Run Time: 01h:29m:00s
"Do you ever wonder what story youíre going to be in someone elseís life?" - Mattie (Greta Gerwig)
Movie Grade: B+
DVD Grade: B
At some point or another, most young people find themselves in a long-distance relationship. The common culprits include moving apart for college or taking a new job in a far-away city. This difficult set-up can test even the strongest relationships. Both people might have the best intentions, but meeting for weekend visits every few months creates serious tension.
Nights and Weekends chronicles one such relationship between James (Joe Swanberg) and Mattie (Greta Gerwig). He lives in Chicago, and she's well across the country in New York. The story begins with a lustful reunion at his apartment, and everything feels perfect. But this bliss is short-lived when the minor squabbles arise. These arguments lead to larger discussions about their future. Is one of them willing to move to a new city? Mattie appears more invested in them and grows irritated when his focus wavers. James is so mellow that it's hard to see any caring behind the detached persona. These two extremes could mesh well in an ideal situation, but the distance makes it unlikely.
This description could easily set the stage for conventional film romance between two attractive stars. Acting as co-directors, Swanberg and Gerwig present the story in a completely different manner. The often-improvised script and truly ìfly on the wallî shooting style bring added weight to the drama. In past films like LOL and Hannah Takes the Stairs, Swanberg has employed this minimalist style to varying degrees of success. Focusing almost solely on the leads, this picture stays focused on telling their story. If you're not interested in James and Mattie, there's little else to draw your attention.
Following the wave of groundbreaking films in the '90s, the indie landscape has shifted towards big stars working under smaller budgets. But can you really call a $5 million film starring George Clooney an ìindieî? Rejecting the glossy approach, the poorly titled ìmumblecoreî genre presents scenes rarely viewed on screen. The biggest change here is the sex scenes, presented in direct fashion and without the Hollywood touches. We also see people taking a shower, going to the bathroom, and actually eating food. This film's characters aren't really mumbling, but they mostly avoid the witty banter of something like Juno. The approach doesn't always work and can be tedious for audiences, but its successes create a lasting impact. When Mattie prepares to leave Chicago, her raw emotions don't feel like ìacting.î I expect that real-life events at least partially came into mind during this moment. I prefer the mystery of what scenes mirrored real events, which adds intriguing layers to the relationship.
Gerwig shined in the lead role of Hannah Takes the Stairs and again conveys remarkable depth to this performance. With her short blond hair and thin frame, she brings an understated beauty to Mattie. The character's limited confidence and neuroses keep her from becoming the ìcute indie chick.î Swanberg has the tough role of making a self-centered guy seem interesting, and he does solid work. James isn't nearly as unlikable is his role in LOL, which inspired genuine hatred. This guy has some positive moments, but he never seems completely invested in their future. In a key scene, James describes his primary reason for loving Mattieóshe's cool enough to charm his friends. While surprisingly honest, it's not usually the best reason to become seriously involved.
This release offers just one notable extra, a commentary from producers Dia Sokol and Anish Savjani. Both have diverse careers and know the business, but their discussion has few compelling moments. I hoped that Swanberg and Gerwig would participate and recount their experiences. The producers speak about how this production differed from typical shooting. They used long takes and let the story develop organically instead of by a tight script. The remaining features include a trailer and some brief teasers involving the two leads.
Nights and Weekends is another step forward for the rising Swanberg, who continues to develop his style. There are a few surprising visual set-ups, particularly an early sequence at Chicago's Millennium Park. The picture's final act includes a photo shoot for James' latest video game, which ends up involving Mattie. The couple shows great chemistry with minimal dialogue, revealing a glimmer of hope. However, their connection might be weaker than we observe in these moments. Is the ultimate reason physical distance or something else entirely? Gerwig and Swanberg never give a clear answer and deliver an original, emotional look at modern romance.
Dan Heaton August 23, 2009, 12:54 pm