Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Nights And Weekends

Illustration for article titled Nights And Weekends

Joe Swanberg's films may seem frustratingly minor and self-indulgent to some, but he's one of the few independent filmmakers working today who understands how to reveal the shape of a relationship through the way two people talk to each other. Swanberg's characters hardly ever say anything significant, but neither does their dialogue break down into the compendium of self-defining speeches, blunt sex-talk, confrontational yelling, and clever quips that seems to constitute so much of movie chat, indie or otherwise. His characters talk the way so many ordinary young people talk: as friends who become more than friends, then can't figure out how to integrate real intimacy into their aggressively casual lifestyles.

Over the course of half a dozen or so shorts and features, Swanberg has learned to how to work these conversations into slight-but-effective narratives. In his breakthrough 2007 film Hannah Takes The Stairs, Swanberg brought some necessary tension to his usual milieu of emotionally arrested post-grads by introducing a love triangle. In his latest, Nights And Weekends, Swanberg and his frequent leading lady, script collaborator, and now directing collaborator Greta Gerwig dissect a long-distance relationship that dies, then gets briefly, sadly resurrected. First seen during a rare weekend together, Swanberg and Gerwig are making their usual transition from sexual bliss to mutual whining about incompatibility and the stress of trying to keep the romance alive. A year later, Swanberg travels to New York on business and reconnects with Gerwig, in a series of clumsy encounters where neither knows what role they're supposed to play.

To some extent, if you've seen one Swanberg film, you've seen them all; Nights And Weekends contains the usual mix of frank, awkward sex scenes and couples talking passive-aggressively around each other. (Dig this non-come-on: "Do you want to take a shower with me because you want to get clean, or because you want to 'take a shower with me'?") But Swanberg and Gerwig also have a gift for constructing the kind of moments rarely seen in contemporary American independent film. When Gerwig cheerfully shoos Swanberg out of her apartment so she can change for their not-quite-a-date, then crumples into sobs as soon as he steps out, it's both a powerful, beautifully acted scene and a critical study of what becomes of the noncommittal.