Nights and Weekends
Written and Directed by Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig.
Full disclosure: If there was ever a target audience for a Joe Swanberg film, or “post-graduate naturalism”* for that matter, it would be me. As a semi-recent college graduate, I’ve enjoyed many films of the aforementioned “movement”**, from the understated and wry comedy of Andrew Bujalski, to the passive-aggressive relationships and frank (and un-erotic) sexuality of Joe Swanberg, to the disconnected and wandering youth of Aaron Katz.
First things first, whatever you might have read or heard about the new Joe Swanberg movie*** (if anything), it was probably somewhat accurate. Like his previous features, Nights and Weekends is entirely improvised, which explains the always-lackluster structure and storytelling vagaries, but also happens to be, not surprisingly, the root of any value he’s putting up on the screen. Over the course of four features, Swanberg and Co. have always been able to provide a decent amount of funny, awkward, and painfully truthful sequences about the goings on of twentysomethings****.
Co-directed by Hannah Takes the Stairs centerpiece Greta Gerwig, Nights and Weekends is a two-part film detailing the tumultuous and ultimately unremarkable long distance relationship between James (Swanberg) and Mattie (Gerwig). The first part, taking place in two parts itself (Chicago and NYC), details their slow meltdown as an unstable couple. Their relationship is completely removed from context*****, and the two are petty and solipsistic, their conversations a barrage of passive-aggressive squabbles, which still happen to resonate quite a bit (probably a result of a decent amount of frustrated acting (mostly on the part of Gerwig, as Swanberg isn’t much of an actor)).
The laborious improvisation shows in the film’s strongest moments (e.g. James revealing the moment he realized he makes the same face as his Dad while driving), but it’s also treads dangerously close to being pretentious in a “this is truthful” kind of way. For all the anti-style going on (e.g. sloppy handhelds, no music), there is quite a bit of self-indulgence going on as often times the two, as actors, are trying so obviously hard to show us the realness. Scene by scene, line by line, the film either strikes out or hits a homerun, and the go for broke-ness of it always seems to draw me in (whether it’s intentional or not).
In getting over the contextual and shallow character issues, the first half of the film really does end up being a funny and uncomfortable document, not of (as presumed), the difficulties of a long distance relationship, but rather the painful and stubborn realization that our significant other might not be the person we expected them to be, or worse, the person that we want them to be. This leads nicely into the second part of the film, which details a year later rendezvous in New York City, when James calls Mattie on a whim. The power dynamic shifts for this second half. James has had relative success****** in NYC being interviewed for a magazine feature, and Mattie, juxtaposed clumsily, is having a hard time from keeping her potted plants from spilling out water all over her bed.
The two agree to meet, and quite a bit of time is spent as Mattie prepares, mulling around, cleaning her apartment, and trying to find the right outfit. She tags along to a photo shoot, where the photographer uncomfortably refers to them as boyfriend/girlfriend, and in one of the film’s finest moments, as they pose together as a couple. As the two later look at the pictures on his computer, one can feel the uncomfortable past creeping up on them, reliving the entirety of their relationship and breakup through present-day photos. While this doomed relationship is a far cry from Romeo & Juliet, the impending fallout between Mattie and James is touchingly detailed, and the sense of dread is almost unbearable. When they, of course, end up getting sexual, it’s clumsy and awkward and ends up serving as a reminder of everything that separated them in the past and will keep them apart for the future. Mattie walks out, later leaving James crying in an airport terminal. Though the power in their relationship has switched again (for the last time), it’s no longer about who’s right or who’s wrong. All trivial relationship fighting is forgotten when she leaves him there, alone. Instead its about reminding us, with heartbreaking assurance, of how fragile relationships with other human beings can be, and how the joys and sorrows of the past can be remembered, but never relived.
*A sentiment I’d like to echo is from the Village Voice, where Nick Pinkerton referred to the word mumblecore as “too stupid to repeat.”
**Movement or not, it’s something, right?
***Which ranges from accusations of “insouciant solipsism” and “obfuscating with underachiever strategies” to praise of “having a gift for constructing the kind of moments rarely seen in contemporary American independent film”. 
****As a young “twentysomething”, I feel allowed to make this claim. For all the immature rubbish going on in these movies (i.e. “mumblecore”), it’s really not too far off. The level of miscommunication, or rather lack of communication, is always delightful in its accuracy.
*****As per the usual, e.g. what do these people do? What do they like? Why don’t these characters ever listen to music?
*******This success, though vague, seems to be as a video game designer. Like, yeah right. This is as offputting and confusing as Gerwig’s “job” in Hannah Takes the Stairs, which, after two viewings, I’m not really sure what it is. Some sort of writing, for a TV (internet?) show, but again, yeah right.