“There’s an uneasy give-and-take to this movie: it has a little too much on its mind and not enough focus to sustain itself.”
by Ken Bakely
At first, it’s tempting to call Steve Basilone’s Long Weekend a mystery – it’s not long before it hints that not everything will be as it seems. But the movie also wants to be straightforward, depicting a swooning romantic tale all while trying to set up its plot twists in the background. There’s an uneasy give-and-take to this movie: it has a little too much on its mind and not enough focus to sustain itself. Yet there’s a lot here that works notwithstanding this, particularly when it comes to Finn Wittrock and Zoë Chao’s beguiling chemistry in the lead roles, which carries through all the surprises that come between their characters. Wittrock plays Bart, a writer struggling with financial and personal hardship – his mother recently died, a serious relationship has come crumbling down, and he’s lost his job. But just when things look the bleakest, he meets Vienna (Chao), the woman who gently awakens him after he passes out in a drunken haze during a repertory screening of Being There. It’s certainly not the most elegant of meetings, but it seems to be good enough, as they soon realize their deep compatibility and enter into a sweet, whirlwind romance. But even from the start, something seems off. Bart has questions about Vienna – she seems curiously detached from the world around her. She does not have a cellphone, bank card, or ID; she refuses to divulge even the most marginal information about her life. We only know that she’s a visitor from somewhere else, and apparently had some business to attend to when she met Bart.
I won’t say what this other business entails and what it means for their relationship, as the answer constitutes the first of multiple surprises that Long Weekend throws at the audience. However, therein lies one of the central problems that the movie experiences. Since it can’t commit to fully interrogating the wild turns of its story while luxuriating in Bart and Vienna’s sparkling relationship on a more surface level, it leaves a lot on the table in both respects and feels frankly hollow as a result. In short, the movie is never fully clear on what it wants to be about. It tosses around a lot of ideas – the challenges of making connections, how our individual struggles change and shape us, hopes and fears about personal and collective futures – but has neither the time nor the apparent inclination to give these big ideas their due. It invokes but doesn’t dive in.
Considering this, what keeps Long Weekend from being even more dismaying is a much sharper execution, helped in no small way by Finn Wittrock and Zoë Chao. They bring a deft, careful consideration to their characters that can exceed what the script otherwise gives them. Wittrock is good at examining Bart’s shaky past (left unexplained until later on), and mapping this against the new questions that arise in Vienna’s own misty life. He’s falling incontestably in love, but there’s no promise of the stability and deep understanding that he seeks – even moreso, ironically, when the truth (or something close to it) begins to emerge. Similarly, Chao excels at taking Vienna, whose thin characterization is wholly intentional, and piecing together the latticework of tiny details into a more palpably realized person. Together, the two shift between the sweetness of their bond and the lingering, ultimately existential challenges they face, doing so with an agility the rest of the movie often lacks – it’s one of the great disappointments of Long Weekend. They are the graceful core of a movie that’s often assembled with real skill– Basilone is a good director of his actors, and Felipe Vara de Rey’s cinematography frames the film’s Los Angeles setting in soft golds and yellows without crossing the line into precociousness. But by the time the plot has navigated through all its frantic steering, the movie is still sorely lacking. The script is just too damagingly slight. From the start, we know that there will be some big, baffling questions that may not receive comprehensive answers; the problem is that watching it mirrors this feeling in ways that weren’t intended.