“Uneven in execution, but the characters are likable and the soundtrack is solid enough that you’ll excuse it in the spirit of having a good time.”
Despite being a film where time travel is a minor plot element, perhaps the most fantastical element of writer-director Steve Basilone’s debut film Long Weekend (2021) is the emptiness of Los Angeles. No matter where the two leads, Bart (Finn Wittrock) and Vienna (Zoë Chao), go, it often seems as if they are the only two people in the world.
Of course, this is by design. One of the film’s major twists hinges on the fact that we don’t really get to see Vienna interact with anyone other than Bart. As a result, the viewer hardly gets to see who she is outside of her love interest. In that way, it’s easy to see her as a typical manic pixie dream girl, existing only to propel Bart’s story forward (this is even lamp-shaded in the film’s first act). In some ways, that’s exactly what she is. However, Zoë Chao’s performance is earnest and endearing enough that we don’t care. Though some manic pixie dream girls can become cloying in their quirkiness, Chao always seems to strike the perfect balance between girl-next-door and girl-we-shouldn’t-trust.
As normal white guy protagonist Bart, Finn Wittrock shoulders the burden of acting as the audience surrogate for the majority of the film. In the hands of a weaker actor, Bart would fall flat. However, Wittrock’s subtle performance manages to sell some of the film’s more hokey and cliché moments, of which there are a few.
In general, Long Weekend is not a film looking to subvert tired romantic comedy tropes. Instead, it seems to look upon them with affection and ask, “how can I do this, but better and more realistic?” The archetypal non-white best friend character of Doug (Damon Wayans Jr.) actually gets some genuinely good lines when he’s not making a smart quip about Bart’s situation. The protagonist is a writer (as romantic comedy protagonists often are) but very much struggling with it (as real people often are).
Indeed, despite the science fiction-inspired premise (and preternaturally calm Los Angeles setting), Long Weekend is surprisingly grounded, from the visuals to the storytelling. Romantic comedies are no stranger to turning up the saturation on films to make colors pop, but the shades of Long Weekend are surprisingly muted. The earthy palette works to the film’s advantage: the images that do pop are more prominent in contrast to the rest of the film, and the realistic visuals compliment the film’s more melancholic moments well.
Romantic films that involve time travel elements often put the time shenanigans front and center (see: About Time, Palm Springs). In Long Weekend, however, the time travel element is often a mere footnote in the broader story. For some audiences, this might be a point against the film. However, for those more interested in character work than plot, Long Weekend is fine. The time travel is explained just enough so that nobody gets confused, but not so much to slow the plot down or allow viewers to poke holes. Instead, with its walk-and-talk vibe, Long Weekend borrows more from Before Sunrise than its time-bending predecessors and does a pretty good job at it. The dialogue is sharp and witty when it needs to be, and even the most thinly written characters feel a little bit human.
Ultimately, Long Weekend is a subtle, earnest meditation on loss, love, and the power of human connection. It’s the feeling of a weekend distilled into a 90-minute film: a relaxing respite from the fast-paced world that reminds you of who you are and your place in the world. It’s uneven in execution, but the characters are likable enough and the soundtrack is solid enough that you’ll excuse it in the spirit of having a good time. And really, aren’t good times what long weekends are supposed to be for, anyways?
Dir: Steve Basilone
Prod: Deanna Barillari, Laura Lewis, Theodora Dunlap, Sam Bisbee, Audrey Rosenberg, and Jess Jacobs
Cast: Finn Wittrock, Zoë Chao, Damon Wayans Jr., Casey Wilson, Jim Rash
Header image courtesy of Stage 6 Films