The indie filmmaking movement known (sometimes derisively) as mumblecore has been mostly a film-festival and blog phenomenon; only one mumblecore movie, the Duplass brothers’ Baghead, has ever made it to theaters in Las Vegas. But the microbudget films about the emotional lives of aimless, overeducated 20-somethings are well worth seeking out on DVD. A good place to start is with the prolific Joe Swanberg, who’s made five features in the last four years. His latest, Alexander the Last, is still making the festival rounds, but new on DVD is Nights and Weekends, which Swanberg co-directed with co-star Greta Gerwig.
Like all of Swanberg’s films, Nights is entirely improvised and concerned mostly with the minutiae of romantic partnerships. Swanberg and Gerwig play a couple whose relationship is deteriorating due to distance (he lives in Chicago; she lives in New York City), and they’re essentially the only actors in the film. With an almost uncomfortable level of intimacy, Swanberg and Gerwig chronicle the fumbling sex, circular arguments and vague, uncertain plans for the future that define so many relationships, and depict in a simple, unforced way how those small details can add up to both euphoria and devastation.
Nights is short (less than 80 minutes) and neatly bifurcated into segments that take place a year apart. It says so much in its gaps and silences that you’re never frustrated by the characters’ typical difficulty in expressing themselves (although claustrophobia does eventually set in). The movie is a bit insular and can seem slight, but like the best work of Swanberg and his associates, it feels entirely true and real.