At this point, we’ve all seen the down-on-his-luck schlub meet a mysterious, bubbly stranger who brings love into his life and changes everything. The beauty of Long Weekend, written and directed by Community and The Goldbergs writer Stephen Basilone, is that Basilone knows we’ve all seen that movie. Long Weekend acknowledges those expectations just enough to subvert them, and thanks to great performances and sharp writing, he creates created this weird, charming little rom-com just different enough from the norm to be intriguing while retaining the best of the genre. It’s like Eternal Sunshine in a snow globe.
I went into Long Weekend, opening in theaters this week, with the lowest of expectations. The poster is one of the worst I’ve seen (for the love of God, no more open-mouthed laughing!), and lead Finn Wittrock, if you didn’t remember him from small roles in If Beale Street Could Talk or A Futile And Stupid Gesture, looks like the stock image that comes up when you search “white guy.” “Finn Wittrock” even sounds like an AI bot tried to name a cute white actor. He has outsized yet finely hewn features, like an early 20th-century cartoonist tried to draw a matinee idol with the fewest lines possible and it came out looking somehow both twinkish and cro-magnon.
I sound like I’m digging in here but part of the charm of Wittrock, and of Long Weekend in general, is that it comes to us in the shape of something far more generic than it actually is. It reveals its true form patiently and deliberately, offering the thrill of discovery and something approaching suspense, with an edifying finish. I feel for the marketing department trying to sell this without spoiling it. The same qualities that make it a tough sell — that it’s a tricky shapeshifter, that it doesn’t reveal itself all at once — are basically the same ones that make it a compelling watch. Sometimes I think the trouble with movies is that goals of making a movie and the goals of selling one are directly at odds. (Acknowledging the difficulty of the task, it still must be said, this trailer is pure nausea fuel).
Wittrock plays Bart, who we meet as he’s moving out of the apartment that he shared with an unseen ex-fiancé, Whit. His phone is full of voice messages, from his psychiatrist and his ex, all trying to make sure he’s okay. An out-of-work writer, he’s moving into his friend’s garage — a friend named Doug, played by Damon Wayans Jr., who is married to Rachel, played by Casey Wilson. We get all the standard jokes you’d expect from the kooky friend/new parent characters, with the only difference being that these actors are actually good, and the dialogue is sharp and well-written. On a conceptual level, Long Weekend isn’t drastically different from any rom-com you’ve seen, it just doesn’t have the shrill neediness or practiced twee that ruins so many of them.
One day while drinking a whole bottle of whiskey at a retro movie theater, Bart meets Vienna (Zoe Chao) a bubbly, cute polyethnic-looking girl (this will become a plot point) who’s so damn charming that she actually pulls off those brutalist art school bangs. Vienna is oddly upbeat and apparently up for anything, and conveniently for broke unemployed Bart, she also has a backpack full of cash. There are other odd things about her, like that she doesn’t have an ID, is staying at a motel, and claims to have never seen a sparkler before. Other than that she’s perfect — adorable, outgoing, a great conversationalist, and, like Bart, doesn’t seem to have anywhere to be, other than present.
Right off the bat, Bart wants to know the same thing that we want to know: is Vienna some manic pixie dream girl? Vienna laughs it off and assures him that she isn’t, but it’s the question of what she actually is that we spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out. Her quirky qualities are especially a red flag for Bart, a guy with an already tenuous grasp on reality whose buddy Doug has already had to pull him out of one mental breakdown. That this all maybe feels slightly like a hokey rom-com is deliberate; we’re living in Bart’s state of mind as he tries to divine what is real and what is in his overcooked, movie-fried imagination.
Long Weekend certainly isn’t the first indie rom-com to incorporate elements of the fantastic (a genre forever and rightly in the shadow of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind). The difficulty for any movie attempting to pull off this kind of sci-fi/metaphysical element is doing it without either going full magical realist or killing the ghost in the machine. The classic example of the latter is The Village, in which M. Night Shyamalan created this whole universe of the fantastic only to murder it in the last scene by giving it all a mundane explanation. The Village is basically the Sixth Sense in reverse, and there’s a reason Sixth Sense is a classic and The Village isn’t. It’s much better to leave a movie seeing the world with a whole new sense of possibility than to have your magical thinking studiously fact-checked and refuted.
It’s incredibly difficult to pull off, this delicate dance between grounded enough but not mundane, yet Long Weekend, the unlikeliest of movies, does it shockingly well. The ending is satisfying but ambiguous enough to dream, ultimately ephemeral but with an enduring sense memory. Can one little fling change your life? Maybe it can.