Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg
Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 April 2008
Source 35mm print
Categories The 2008 South by Southwest Film Festival
Nights and Weekends is shot in hotel rooms and apartments and hallways and public spaces. You’ve seen all of these things. The film has a brazen disregard for the basic capability of film to display things, people, and places with which the viewer is not familiar. This applies to the film emotionally as well; it concerns a relationship between two attractive white people. Conceptually, you’ve seen this sort of film before, probably many times.
My description is reductive and says little of the film’s formal ingenuity, but it is valid as co-directors Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg (also stars) are more interested in form. As with the company’s previous Hannah Takes the Stairs, Nights and Weekends subsists on nuance and ambiguity, to the point that the film is predominantly nonspecific. It’s ideas without clarity, and it’s told sparsely, comprised of disconnected excerpts that find the couple in the middle of some type of impromptu tryst or confrontation. More or less the film is intent to posit an ambiguity in relational status, and yet its characters constantly attempt to reconcile their status. Rather, it changes, from day-to-day or, in regard to the nature of the relationship between the two principle characters, from the nights and weekends isolated for the two - he in Chicago, she in New York - to see each other.
The film benefits from a conceptually familiarity, in effect emphasizing the nuances and not the particulars of this relationship. Hannah Takes the Stairs is also very nuanced, but it is also very self-indulgent, vesting little concern in what a wide gamut of viewers will find entertaining; it’s esoteric, by this measure, and this has a lot to do with its appeal. Nights and Weekends has an aspect of self-indulgence - it’s impossible to consider this film without mentioning how its co-directors have staged their own lovemaking - but it’s considerably more accessible. Gerwig’s Hannah was manipulative and indirectly deceptive; here, her insecurities are surfaced, and her lover is responsible in tending to her emotional vulnerability.
Such vulnerability pertains to both parties in question, but the film isn’t about this vulnerability any more than it’s about the joy that precedes it. The establishment, maintenance, and dissolution of this relationship are entirely ambiguous; the emphasis is the frankness and courage that facilitates each of these things, and how these details are especially necessary in a long-distance relationship. It opens forthrightly, with the two greeting each other after, presumably, an elongated absence. They kiss and embrace passionately, and collapse naked on the floor as soon as the front door is locked. This occurs in an unbroken take, and proceeds just beyond the threshold of what would be considered a conventional sex scene. It looks real, but not pornographically embellished.
Swanberg and Gerwig are not involved outside of this film (both are in other relationships, which they were also in during filming), but their collaboration is depicted in the film with what I imagine is some amount of transparency. They’re essentially putting themselves on display. When Gerwig enters a bathroom late in the film, exchanging her clothing for a bathrobe in preparation to seduce her ex-boyfriend, and eyes her body with scrutiny, her desperate anxiousness is doubly manifest—she’s considering herself as both a lover and a lover in a film. She looks like she’s playing a part, and Nights and Weekends is characterized by this notion of staging and performance. It’s less a fictional relationship than it is a demonstration of the filmmakers’ unsteady relationship with one another and their audience. They want to impress each other and they want their film to be liked. It’s at times bold, intimate, unfunny, and discomforting, but it is never anything less than sincere.
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