STUDIO: IFC Films / MPI Media Group
MSRP: $24.98
RATED: Unrated (but R, for all intents and purposes)
RUNNING TIME: 79 minutes
• Joe Swanberg Teasers
• Trailer
• Test Short
• Producers’ Commentary with Anish Savjani and Dia Sokol

The Pitch

Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig co-direct a long-distance relationship drama, with everything you might expect from the two of them collaborating on a project. And that’s not bad.

“It’s been how goddamn long since we watched Death Bed: The Bed That Eats,
and we still have to do it like this? Jesus Christ.” 

The Humans

Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig, Alison Bagnall, Elizabeth Donius, Jay Duplass, Kent Osborne, Lynn Shelton, Ellen Stagg

The time is 2:14 a.m. The date is August 29, 1997.
And to calibrate its weapons, Skynet picks an easy target.

The Nutshell

Essentially a two-person drama (with background characters flitting into scenes every now and again), Nights and Weekends is a series of vignettes (in that you would never call this a narrative film, exactly) depicting scenes in the life of a dating couple, Mattie (Gerwig) and James (Swanberg). She lives in New York; he lives in Chicago. We get no real background about how they met, or why they started dating, just an immediate glimpse into their present long-distance circumstances — and the film jumps right in with a rather graphic sex scene between the two.

The relationship is doomed, and viewers see that immediately; though the two care for one another, the distance is too great for either of them, and the scenes we see of the couple together on all-too-short weekend visits aren’t enough to sustain even a relationship as ostensibly healthy as this one. The neuroses become too much, and, in a somewhat surprising second half jump, we see the two a year later, post-breakup (again with no indication as to what went wrong, though we can guess), as they awkwardly meet again.

“I really liked Inglourious Basterds. It’s good to see the giant face get revenge,
for a change.”

The Lowdown

While you’d never mistake Nights and Weekends for having a rocketing narrative, Swanberg (director of LOL and Hannah Takes the Stairs, unseen by me, and the more recent Alexander the Last, currently staring accusatorily at me from the other side of the room in its Netflix envelope — I’ll get around to it, I swear) and Gerwig’s film is a moving and painfully intimate portrait of a couple who, despite their best intentions and own desires, are in decline. Shot in raw digital photography mostly in close-up, Nights and Weekends presents the impression that viewers are invading the personal space of this couple — and that, I think, is a key to the film’s power.

Full disclosure: I’m not much of a fan of what I’ve seen of the so-called “mumblecore” movement (though don’t you dare call it that!), but I dug Nights and Weekends because, unlike other films in the alleged genre (Mutual Appreciation and Baghead, films I didn’t care for, come to mind), Nights and Weekends is bare, uncomfortably intimate, and not slathered with layers of irony, except perhaps when the characters utilize a kind of hipster emotional detachment as a defensive mechanism.

I don’t think one sees too many movies as honest from start to finish as Nights and Weekends, with its co-directors/co-stars improvising their dialogue and laying themselves stark and bare in front of these cameras, nude or otherwise. Needless to say it captures a voyeuristic quality as the film goes on, particularly in its surprising second half, where the actors (especially Gerwig — her jump to mainstream, larger roles is unsurprising after seeing this, and I’m sure she has a hell of a career ahead) particularly shine. Obviously this film is largely improvised, but Swanberg and Gerwig have such a handle on their characters that this isn’t a sticking point like it can be. It makes the viewer wonder where the characters end and the actors begin — and that’s a nice thing to wonder in a movie like this, because that means it’s doing its job.

“Look, I’m sorry that you’re experiencing ‘Pandora withdrawals,’ or whatever,
but Pandora isn’t even a real fucking place. It’s part of a movie. Get under the umbrella.”
“But on Pandora, we wouldn’t even NEED umbrellas!”

Look, these movies aren’t going to be for everyone. Those who insist upon narrative films having strict narratives will likely not enjoy it. But those who love a good, natural character study will appreciate Nights and Weekends, in all its low-budget, uncomfortably intimate glory. And I have a feeling that it’ll really speak to a lot of viewers who have been in relationships like this, ones that have, for one reason or another, felt destined to have ended. The characters in Nights and Weekends even think about this, as Mattie asks at one point in the film how she’ll be remembered to James’ future girlfriends: “I could just be in your life, like… the story of this girl who you were maybe once going to have a baby with. Maybe you wouldn’t even mention that.” If you let it, Nights and Weekends might sneak up and break your heart — which isn’t too bad for a sub-genre of film that I had come close to writing off.

The Package

On my second viewing, I watched the film with the producers’ commentary. Producers Anish Savjani and Dia Sokol tell anecdotes from the set of the film. For example, for most of the shooting, there were only four people on set: Swanberg, Gerwig, the director of photography, and one of the producers, who usually ended up also doing sound. It’s a sporadically interesting commentary, though generally more revealing of the technical side of things; they seem content to let the film speak for itself.

Also included is the film’s trailer, along with a few teasers for the film cut mostly from footage that doesn’t appear to have made it into the finished feature (again according to the commentary, they shot a ton of footage, particularly for the first half of the movie), and a test short in lower-fi digital video. All of this is interesting but only necessary for the Joe Swanberg enthusiast; the main attraction is the film, and I do suggest you rent it.

“So I’m going to shave my back hair into the Green Lantern logo. Want to help?”

8.5 out of 10