Film reviews and more since 2009

Nights and Weekends (2008) review

Dir. Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★★

The relationship at the core of Nights and Weekends is the kind everyone should experience one in their life, especially with someone of the opposite sex. The relationship with someone not related to you, whom you could talk openly with, share secrets, and feel downright in-place when you talk to them. That feeling of connection may have ironically been dwindled down to a stunning rarity with the popularity of smartphones and the internet, but its significance remains imperative to ones’ life and well-being.

Nights and Weekends – Joe Swanberg’s fourth directorial effort and Greta Gerwig’s first – is, in short, a small masterpiece; a satisfying, deeply personal mumblecore movie that exercises its right to be both meaningful and significant in the world of relationships and long-distance dating because of its realistic portrayal of characters in that current situation. It centers around the lives of James and Mattie (Swanberg and Gerwig, respectively), a couple who has desperately tried to make their relationship work despite their long-distances from each other. He lives in Chicago, while she lives in New York.

The first half of the picture is devoted to them hanging out in James’ town of Chicago, hanging around the city, but mostly engaging conversations during cuddle-time. These scenes allow for a wonderful, full-flesh intimacy session to take place amongst the characters. These are the kind of conversations I live for, in film and in real life. The honesty, poignancy, and often realism that comes out in these sessions will likely resonate with married couples, particularly those who have had to go the extra mile to make it work, whether it be locational, racial, or ideological boundaries.

The second half takes place in Mattie’s town of New York City, one year later. Production of the film was also halted for a year to give the actors the feeling of jumping into the characters one year later; a wise directorial move if you ask me. This is where we, and the characters, begin to question the viability of their relationship. They’re not really meeting new people, or attempting to cheat on one another. They are just exhausted at their efforts of trying to make things work and perhaps it’s time to shift from being in a committed relationship to being friends; the kind of people who talk about their relationships and are not in one together.

But how do you go about doing that when you’ve been in a relationship for so long? How do you realistically say ‘enough is enough’ and you want to experiment with other priorities? When James and Mattie are awkwardly taking pictures at a photography place – perhaps out of predictable relationship convention as they both seem equally unmoved about the process – you can see they just don’t seem to care how they look or behave around one another. It’s a soul-crushing scene that makes the warmest heart turn cold.

Joe Swanberg has made and been involved with almost twenty films over the course of seven years. Because of his stunning, prolific filmmaking behavior, you wouldn’t think he allows himself much time to mature, look over what he did well and what he tripped up on in his previous films. However, Swanberg is one of the youngest, most mature directors I’ve yet to see in film. His sense of awareness on human cultures, as far as dating, relationships, and communications go are mostly accurate and believable. The ways he depicts online conversation and sex are rooted in believability and awkwardness, kind of like they are in real life. Of course he will make missteps in his career; it comes with the territory of being prolific and not going long-periods of time putting the camera down. At this point, especially after Nights and Weekends, I don’t want Swanberg to break; his touching, naturalistic look on society and relationships through the lens of independent filmmaking is something we need in cinema, and the zealous way he films and releases his movies is something of a breakneck achievement in the field.

Nights and Weekends contains brutal honesty about marriage, dating, and the hardships that come with the feel. It needs to be viewed by young adolescents who are either rushing into relationships, are desperate to be in one, or simply want to see the glimpse inside the world of a practical relationship. Swanberg and Gerwig conduct the film maturely, and their acting makes the relationship only more viable for the entire picture. The film, yet again, proves that when examining a relationship, keeping it simple, concise, and honest is the best and most meaningful approach.

NOTE: As of this writing, Nights and Weekends is available to stream on AMC+.

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY GRETA GERWIG:
My review of Lady Bird
My review of Little Women (2019)
My review of Barbie (2023)

Starring and directed by: Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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