There’s a meta-mumblecore movie just begging to be made that’s set amidst the group of people who’ve been making mumblecore movies, and it would start off at the tense premiere screening of “Nights and Weekends.” Co-directors, writers and stars Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg presented their third feature together to (and later took part in a candid Q&A in front of) a crowd half made up of friends and acquaintances uncomfortably aware that things had gotten ugly during the making of the film. In a mini-movement that’s eluded agreed-upon definitions beyond the fact that its films are the collaborative creations of collections of friends, it was both stinging and poignant to see a film about a break-up that coincides with the break-up of a creative partnership. And “Nights and Weekends” is good, the best thing that Swanberg who’s on his fourth film in four years, and the first in which he’s shared a co-director credit has produced in his young career, maybe because his influence is balanced out by Gerwig’s, and maybe because this is the first in which the shadow of adult life encroaches on the post-college bubble that’s been both the playground and bane of his work.
“Nights and Weekends” is the unapologetically elliptical tale of a long-distance relationship between James (Swanberg), who’s working in Chicago, and Mattie (Gerwig), who’s in nursing school in New York. Over the span of two visits, they fight and fuck and go through all of the heightened drama of two people compressing a few weeks’ worth of time together into a few days. At the midpoint of the film, there’s a pregnancy scare, and then a “One Year Later” title card, and we take up with the two of them post-offscreen break-up, when James, in town for business, impulsively gives Mattie a call. The narrative is defiantly artless, but falls nevertheless into a nicely bifurcated structure, with the fits and starts of the first half leading into the immediacy of the second. No score, other than The Zombie’s melancholy “This Will Be Our Year” at opening credits; Gerwig and Swanberg carry the film on their own, with assistance from cinematographers Matthias Grunsky and Benjamin Kasulke in another first in the Swanberg oeuvre, others shoot the film, and the look is massively improved for it.
Gerwig and Swanberg reportedly shot hours of footage for what would become “Nights and Weekends,” and then, a year later, decided there still wasn’t enough there for a feature and reunited to make the second, and stronger, half of the film. It shows, but in a way that works that feeling that the initial half of the film consists of the best scenes skimmed from some larger and more mundane narrative gives it the consistency of something subjective. Over time, it’s the brightest and the darkest moments of a relationship that remain in the memory, which may be why, given the chance, you’d revisit it all.