By: Erik Davis
Nights and Weekends marks writer-director Joe Swanberg's fourth consecutive film at the South by Southwest Film Festival, and it's quite possibly his strongest work yet. Here, Swanberg co-directs and stars alongside girl-next-door-with-an-edge Greta Gerwig – and the two play a couple struggling through the highs and lows of a long distance relationship. What we see is what we don't see, if that makes any sense, as Swanberg and Gerwig consciously chose not to hand this one to the audience on a silver platter. Case in point: There's really no narrative at all. One would think a film with no narrative would be the equivalent of recording you and your significant other watching TV on a Friday night – cuddled up, chitter chatter with a pause for a snack here and there.
On the surface, Nights and Weekends is just that – a regular night (or nights) with regular people who talk just like us or them or your friend with the huge crush on that guy we all kinda know. But look a little deeper and Nights and Weekends is so much more than "just another 'Mumblecore' flick about confusing relationships and missed opportunities." Swanberg and Gerwig do a tremendous job tapping into everything we love about our relationships, as well as everything we hate – and they do this with moments, glances, kisses and tears. No score. No set pieces. No set up and payoff. In an interview the morning after the film's world premiere, Swanberg told me that's exactly how he remembers his own life: as random scenes, conversations or smiles – a mixed fruit basket of love, lust, fear and disappointment.
The story is you, him, her or they – she's from New York City, he's from Chicago and we crash in at some point during their relationship in typical Swanberg fashion: two bodies ripping clothes off each other during a frenzied "I've been counting down the days for this moment" love-making session. This weekend, they're at his place in Chicago. We don't know much (if anything) about how they met, who they are, how they came to be – but the real meat of the film doesn't exist in whatever unnecessary character information is slowly revealed; it lives and breathes in the verbal and non-verbal ways the two communicate with one another.
The first half of the film shows us this whirlwind of a relationship; the extreme passion that's born out of a forced distance between two lovers. However, the second half of the film jumps ahead one year. We realize things have changed, that our lovers are no longer where they were before, but why and how are left up to the imagination. Like I said, this isn't a 'why' or 'how' kind of flick -- it's a series of moments collected and opened just wide enough for us to peak in. Swanberg, as always, is solid in his acting. I've found that his strengths lie in his quick responses; his ability to make every line of dialogue seem natural and real. Gerwig, of course, is slowly becoming the greatest thing to happen to independent film in some time. She's an unbelievable actress who's never been afraid to let go and lose herself in a role.
Nights and Weekends is an actor's film. There's no score (except for one minute of a song over the opening credits), no real narrative and no big reveals. All we have to hold onto are these two people, Swanberg and Gerwig, their characters and their performances, which, might I add, were some of the best this festival had to offer in 2008.