Nights and Weekends

Dir: Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig

Rating: 1.0

IFC Films

79 minutes

If you believe that brevity is the soul of wit, read no further than the following paragraph: watching Nights and Weekends is a lot like watching paint dry. Except instead of paint, you have two poor actors playing out a tedious relationship drama, only without the drama, and with tons of implausible dialogue that in a just world should have gone no further than the cutting room floor.

This sounds harsh, I know, but there is simply nothing about this movie to like. The plot in a nutshell: James and Mattie, played by writer/directors and real-life couple Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig, start out crazy in love. We know this because in the first scene they’re tearing each others’ clothes off on the floor two feet from the apartment door. Unfortunately, this interminable rutting is the only indicator that the characters have feelings for each other – the actors’ chemistry is so bad that one suspects the film could have been improved by replacing them with any two people of mixed gender. Or perhaps even the same gender. Or perhaps by wooden puppets with spools of yarn for eyes and mouths drawn on in magic marker.

Anyway, James and Mattie are in love. Except that James lives in Chicago and Mattie lives in New York, and the long distance relationship is grinding them down. So they break up. A year passes. When James flies to New York on business the two are reunited during one tense afternoon – No, I can’t do it. James and Mattie’s reunion is as limp as the rest of the movie; the only tension in the whole 80 minutes was the constriction in my stomach 20 minutes in when I realized I had an hour to go. The pace is lethargic. The formulation, generic. The dialogue comes straight from that mid-’90s dead zone after Reservoir Dogs convinced a generation of dullards that they too could write a hit movie if only they put in enough ‘real talk.’ Using this technique, Swanberg and Gerwig manage to capture the mind-numbing triviality of daily life without actually illuminating any of the small moments that give it meaning.

For 80 minutes we’re forced to hover like the ghosts of damned souls sentenced to endure Gerwig and Swanberg gibbering nothings to each other. We learn how disgusting it is to watch someone else eat a banana, we learn that Mattie doesn’t respond to sarcastic fun, we learn that James didn’t treat love as the precious commodity that it is. Or maybe that was Mattie. It doesn’t matter, really, since you can’t possibly give a shit.

Judging by the press materials that accompanied the movie, Swanberg and Gerwig found making it a rocky undertaking. In fact, it seems to have ended their relationship, though the causality of this statement is as muddled as the film. “When we think long and hard about Nights and Weekends,” they write in their directors’ statement, “all we can really say about it is that it exists.”

That’s probably the most charitable summary.

by Shane Hoversten

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