Judge Christopher Kulik wishes every night was a week end.
Distance is not only measured by miles.
Evidently I'm not in tune with indie cinema as much as I should be. While doing research for my latest assignment, Nights And Weekends, I ran across several editorials referring to the film as another entry in the mumblecore film movement. For the uninitiated, these films basically center on twentysomethings and much of the dialogue was generated out of improvisation. So, it's essentially an offspring of French New Wave and Realism, except it's been crafted by the MySpace generation. Personally, I don't really see the hubbub surrounding this newly created genre, but that doesn't mean Nights and Weekends wasn't an absorbing introduction to it.
Facts of the Case
The cover art clearly suggests Nights and Weekends is a love story, but it's far from traditional. Instead of employing a standard three-act structure, the film is really separated into two acts. In the first, we meet Mattie (Greta Gerwig, Baghead) and James (Joe Swanberg, Hannah Takes the Stairs). She lives in New York, he in Chicago. She wants to be a writer, he a photographer. They are young and seem determined, by hell or high water, to make their relationship work. And, by the end of the first act, the viewer is almost convinced it will.
The second act begins a year later. Mattie and James have split for reasons not entirely made clear. James is a bit more successful, but Mattie seems to be still struggling with her writing ambitions. When James arrives in New York to do a photo shoot, Mattie is questioning whether to see him or not. Eventually, clues begin to surface as to why they broke off their relationship awhile back.
Now, I could easily mention a number of influences Swanberg and Gerwig (who both wrote and directed while also starring in the piece) could have drawn from. Two that immediately come to mind are Same Time, Next Year and Before Sunset. Yet, Nights And Weekends is a genuine original, one that dares not to remind its viewers of the old adage that long-distance relationships never work. We know that, and Swanberg and Gerwig both know it too. Their film feels personal and intimate to the core. Aside from the improvisation, there is an ambiguity employed in the storytelling that makes everything feel natural and intriguing.
I watched the film twice, and the second viewing revealed so much more than I expected. In essence, the first half is about the characters dealing with the physical distance. The second has them dealing with the emotional distance between them, and the way the series of events plays out is dramatically nail-biting. Their perceptions on love, career, and family have changed, and they begin to embrace realism over optimism. And while Nights and Weekends seems like a downer of sorts, it refreshingly avoids sentimentality.
Both Swanberg and Gerwig set out to create something personal, and they crafted it exceptionally. They bring their characters to life honestly, and quiet scenes reveal much more about them than mere words. I was especially drawn to Gerwig (who reminds me of Chloe Sevigny in both looks and style) in the second half as her motivation to see Swanberg is half-hearted at best.
A small winner on the film festival circuit, IFC has picked Nights and Weekends up for distribution. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image does justice to the low-budget color palettes, and visual anomalies are kept to a minimum. Since this a dialogue-driven film, the 2.0 Stereo track is perfectly acceptable. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, and Spanish. The extras are a bit of a disappointment, considering Swanberg and Gerwig are nowhere to be found. Instead, we have their two co-producers give a commentary that isn't bad, but lacks insight and has far too many silent gaps. Also included is a test short, as well as promotional material for other Swanberg features.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as I liked Nights and Weekends, there was one aspect of the storytelling that really bothered me. The scenes where Mattie and James converse with other people (such as her sister and his brother) are just negligible, as they add no insight. All they seem to do is slow the film down.
There is something real and raw about Swanberg's work, and his collaboration with Gerwig has resulted in quite a gem. While Nights and Weekends may stop short from hitting the bulls-eye, it's still more than worth renting.
Swanberg and Gerwig are free to go, and IFC is found not guilty for a nice DVD.
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