James and Mattie are in love. Or at least that's what it looks like at the start of Nights and Weekends, as they tumble through the door of his Chicago apartment and onto the floor. Kissing and pawing, pulling off shirts and wriggling out of jeans, they giggle and roll about — happy happy happy.
In the next scene, they're in the bathroom. Still in the same frame, but split: He's in the shower, she's drying off. They discuss dinner, and don't look at each other; he reaches for a towel, and oops, she apologizes for making both towels wet.
James doesn't care, though. Neither does Mattie mind that he eats a banana in front of her, even though she hates the sound and the smell of it. None these little things matter, because they're in love.
It's not clear how James (Joe Swanberg) and Mattie (Greta Gerwig) fall out of love, or even if they do. But such uncertainty is part of the point in mumblecore, the sorta-genre known for its improvised acting, hand-held cameras and resistance to conventional storytelling. Like Swanberg's Hannah Takes the Stairs or the Duplass Brothers' The Puffy Chair, Nights and Weekends (directed by Gerwig and Swanberg) offers glimpses of a relationship and pieces of a plot, leaves most everything unresolved and unexplained.
It's a lovely, gentle film about loss and disappointment. Impressionistic and intimate (frontal-nudity scenes are resolutely unsensational), Nights and Weekends shows moments, but also evolutions, the unchartable rhythms of a romance diminishing.
The trouble is first visible when James brings Mattie along to "drop off" something at a fellow videogame designer's apartment. She waits in the hallway, chomping on chips, framed by cinderblock hallway walls.
When he returns, she's undone, and no matter how hard he tries to console her — dancing and flopping his arms as she stands beneath an umbrella in the rain — she remains miserable: "I don't respond to sarcastic fun," she declares. When she starts crying, he gives up.
Their missed connections become more acute when the film shifts to New York, where Mattie lives. Their relationship, always a long-distance affair, is showing more signs of strain. Mattie and her sister sit in the foreground, the former near tears.
Later, when James and Mattie lie in bed later, they're cozy but distracted, contemplating the difference between being properly "precious" or "overly precious."
They talk and talk, about babies and trust. "Do you ever wonder, like, what story you're gonna be in someone else's life?" Mattie asks.
And even as they become stories in one another's lives, the film doesn't press the crisis or the realization. As oblique alternatives to conventional plots, character arcs, even conclusions, Nights and Weekends offers hints and gestures, glances and failures. Looking at photos taken for a magazine story about James the game designer, they share a few minutes of mutual desire — for the couple who looks out at them from these professionally composed images, faux spontaneity and happy faces.
It might have been them. Or, as Nights and Weekends suggests, even their good times might have been imagined, at the time.