REVIEW: Nights and Weekends

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NIGHTS AND WEEKENDS
80 Minutes // USA // IFC Films
dir. Joe Swanberg & Greta Gerwig
Thursday, August 27th, 2009
starring:
Greta Gerwig & Joe Swanberg

Mumblecore: a quiet wave of American cinema slowly sweeping the independent scene away from mildly large names like Gus van Sant. These films are devoted to showing the here and now; they are the polar opposite of “genre films” and are simply made for the viewer to connect and contemplate rather than escape and enjoy.

Once or twice a year, a mumblecore film is picked up for distribution – last year was the latest by the pioneering Duplass brothers in Baghead as well as the latest by another of only three big names in the wave in Joe Swanberg (the other being Andrew Bujalski).

The film starts off with two excited, fairly young people – Mattie (co-director/co-writer Greta Gerwig) and James (Joe Swanberg) – making out aggressively and eventually having sexual relations. The film jump-cuts away from the charged affair to bring a more intimate introspective into their relationship; the talk afterward. They discuss frivolous but interesting topics that resemble many of the thoughts that go through my mind. For example, the occasional thought pondering what other people in the world will remember you for – your old friends and enemies, basically everyone you’ve fallen out of contact with. These conversations, primarily used for minor metaphors and general reflective purposes, keep the film chugging along honestly for the minuscule 80 minute running time.

Like all couples, Mattie and James have their faults. They get worked up over the most trivial subjects – some of which lead to revealing deeper faults within the characters and subsequently reducing them to tears. A sincere examination of the insecurities most people of this new generation have in romantic relationships.

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As we get to know more and more about what defines our two protagonists it is revealed that their situation is one of the most shaky to maintain – a long distance relationship. Due to the added pressure on the relationship, their emotions may come off a bit more exaggerated than you’ve experienced. Especially in Mattie’s case who seems to refute every imperfect suggestion brought on by James. Then again, in making reflective cinema one doesn’t want to make something so common that it emerges boring midway through.

The halfway mark’s bell tolls and suddenly everything is anxious. It’s one year later. Now both characters are apprehensive near each other – almost gleaming with delight when they see one and other. It’s easy to interpret what the story is alluding at, but I’ll hold back on telling you what occurs regardless. In the end, it’s the turn in the story that causes the film its only major detriment. The creators intent loses itself in the final scene and crushes the prospects of a subtle and poetic ending but hurling an explicitly interminable one. As definitive as it is, it clashed devastatingly with the preceding scenes; leaving a distinctly negative aftertaste, but not one too unmanageable that the excellence from the rest of the feature couldn’t wash away.

As a whole, this experiment in the mundane is as candid as one could imagine. One reviewer said that “these kids are afraid of tripods” as their thesis. While it’s true that mumblecore is a proudly handheld movement, I’ve come to feel that simple, earnest photography is a true benefit for any film that tries to assemble a personal tone. The close-up shots cause for claustrophobia giving the view some perspective into the strain of a difficult, but wanted relationship. Greta Gerwig’s performance as the unrelenting Mattie expresses this beautifully in one of the finest, most sincere turns of 2008.

Simply put, Nights and Weekends is one of the finest installments in American, let alone independent American cinema, from the past year. It’s characters are so pensive that anyone in their mid-twenties or younger will be hard-pressed not to find pieces of themselves in the feature. In fact this feature is so easy to identify with that it’s almost surreal to be witnessing the events unfold from a third-person perspective. [9/10]

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