Nights and Weekends: Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg

01Feb10

by The Great White Gypsy

While looking through the nominees for this year’s Independent Spirit Awards, I came across a familiar title: Nights and Weekends. It had been in my Netflix Instant Queue (God bless Netflix) for a while, and I figured now was a good time to check it out. I had heard really good things.
I got hosed, Davy…I got hosed.
Nights and Weekends, starring, written and directed by Greta Gerwig (actress: Baghead, Hannah Takes the Stairs) and Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs, LOL) is about a a couple trying to make a long distance relationship work between Chicago and New York. It starts out the way so many of these stories do: we are introduced to the characters walking in the door to his apartment. As soon as the door is open, they are ripping each other’s clothes off and making love on the floor. The intimacy is immediate in its passion and unapologetic in its exposure; a good way to jump the audience right in to identifying with the characters. This isn’t the last sex scene in the film, but it is one of the last scenes in which I gave a rat’s ass about either of the characters.
As much as no one in this business likes the word “forumula”, there are certain guidelines and arcs that most stories follow on screen. In an emotionally taxing distance relationship, you would assume that the directors would show you this intimacy, followed by slight hardship, and then spend some time with the two separately in their own cities. The tension and the love would ebb and flow throughout the film until the decisive moment at the end has your heart on the edge of its seat.
If you want to give Swanberg and Gerwig a cookie for coloring outside the lines, be my guest. However, I think that in a genre defined by its realism (look out for our mumblecore spotlight, coming soon), Nights and Weekends attempts to maintain too much of it, and sacrifices the art of filmmaking. The dialog, while interesting and natural, very rarely conveys the sense that these two people have any deep emotional connection, or ever did. When he’s leaving her phone messages, or when she’s gearing up to ask him a serious question, it feels like they have only known each other for a few weeks. Even though they have one or two convincing arguments at the beginning, all of a sudden these “real” people are coming across as whiny, confused adolescents with lame senses of humor.
I think it’s hard for people to say they don’t like mumblecore films. That’s like telling your friend, “Hey Bob, that incident with your girlfriend last night? I thought it was poorly done. Work on that.” It’s so real, that you don’t want to fault a filmmaker for what you’re seeing. Films like Humpday and In Search of a Midnight Kiss, use the camera like a pair of glasses. You don’t feel like you’re watching a movie, nor do you feel like a mere fly on the wall. You feel like you’re in the scene, hanging out with these people, playing the “silent partner”. In Nights and Weekends, the camera – though steady and simplistic – accomplishes the same thing. The problem: it was like being a “silent partner” in a room full of people you don’t want to be around, and you keep checking your watch.
And that decisive moment I talked about? Well, my heart wasn’t anywhere near the edge of its seat. Actually, it kept telling me to “turn this crap off”, that it would “rather watch The Proposal“. Those are direct quotes. Go ahead, ask it.
Nights and Weekends, like most mumblecore films, got rave reviews when it was first released. So maybe this won’t be the one, but I’m hoping people will soon realize that this genre (which I am only beginning to love) is like any other: fallible. Imperfect. Prone to the same pitfalls as the mainstream. I hope this happens before the hipsters get ahold of it; they ruin everything.
Seriously…I have a closet full of striped shirts I can’t wear anymore. Assholes.
Final Grade: C-

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