Film Review: ‘Long Weekend’ has its weird, quirky heart in the right place
Not long into Long Weekend, the film’s buzzed, mild-mannered protagonist, Bart (Finn Wittrock), asks his comparably tipsy new companion, Vienna (Zoë Chao), if she is, in fact, a real person. “Are you, like, one of those manic pixie dream girls?” It’s not the first time Long Weekend spews a steady stream of references to other, mostly better films, as if to say that it can’t be accused of suffering from tired tropes if it address them forthright. Right?
Directed and written by Steven Basilone in his feature debut, Long Weekend opens with Bart in total shambles. Alone, depressed, and seemingly medicated, Bart has no idea how to pick up the pieces of his life after losing his mother to cancer, his career to corporate interests, and his fiancé to dramatic circumstances. At what might be his lowest moment, he encounters Vienna in a movie theater of all places, and thus their bond over all things film and irony begins to blossom.
The problem is that Vienna is suspiciously private about all the major details of her background. She won’t talk about where she came from, why she’s in LA, or why she conspicuously lacks a phone. Regardless, Bart finds himself utterly smitten with her, and the two strike up a passionate, short-term fling. Her secret, which is best kept as a surprise if you can help it, certainly upends the film’s grounded, Sundance-flavored tone, but none of the romance anguishes under the pressure of such a dramatic story reversal. If anything, it infuses this otherwise dull romantic dramedy with a unique angle worth falling for.
Most of Long Weekend is spent in endearing isolation with both Bart and Vienna. Their chemistry works well because of how relatably awkward it is — they both share a common love of witty sarcasm and meta-jokes about their personal hang ups. They relate their individual stories to movies quite a bit, even for millennials in Los Angeles. And as their bond deepens, so too does the tragic nature of their brief time together.
The film introduces a lot of heady concepts about the machinations of destiny and finding the right person at the wrong time, but it never unravels these points into anything substantive or cerebral. Long Weekend runs on pure emotion. It’s more about how these characters can possibly cope with a world that feels doomed — whether it be from climate change or the perils of disease — rather than what they really think about these issues and their wider implications.
At times, Long Weekend tries to play a magic trick on the audience, distracting them from its unbalanced premise by allowing its leads to exert charm practically through the screen. But the holes in the narrative reappear as soon as the supporting cast gets time to factually address the absurdity of their situation, notably Damon Wayans Jr. as Doug, Bart’s “why don’t you just settle down, already” type best friend. It’s certainly a welcome change to see Wayans Jr. in a subtler, more nuanced role than usual, though the film underutilizes its billing of Wendi McLendon-Covey as Bart’s flirty landlord and Jim Rash as a dog-obsessed boss (don’t get ahead of yourselves, “Community” fans), who only appear in two scenes for reasons that demand an investigation.
By the final stretch, almost anyone who’s seen a single romantic comedy or drama will be able pinpoint all the exact beats and revelations at least 20 minutes before the film finally cut to credits. Long Weekend isn’t a long movie by any means, just 91 minutes. But its main issue is that it soldiers on with its story quite a while after the meat of its plot has lost steam, as much of the third act is a waiting game for Long Weekend to finally hit its expected destination. In fact, it’s hard not to wonder if the film’s core twist might’ve worked better as a huge reveal closer to the end.
But again, it’s hard to tear down a film this earnest and competent where it counts the most: the romance. Wittrock and Chao are undeniably well-cast here, capable of turning pretentious dialogue and an onslaught of niche pop culture references into relatable, human conversation. You can feel how strongly their words are trying to reach the other person, and it’s mostly done through the sheer dynamism of these performances, specifically with how their expressions tend to communicate everything they’re feeling before they’ve uttered a single word. It’s the sort of soft, but potent emotional connection Basilone pulled off quite well with his work on “Community” and “The Goldbergs,” proving his material works best when in the hands of actors who can balance comedy and heart almost effortlessly.
Long Weekend is being released by Stage 6 films in theaters starting March 12.