Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hannah Takes the Stairs/Nights and Weekends

Hannah Takes the Stairs (Joe Swanberg, 2007) [3]/Nights and Weekends (Joe Swanberg, 2008) [5]

Whether you want to call it mumblecore or not, there's a lot of elements that bug me about these films. I also happen to see some useful aspects of them, nor do I think they are a boil on the ass of cinema, as some cineastes have essentially said. I recommended the only Swanberg feature I had seen up to this point, Kissing On the Mouth, and after seeing these two film back to back, I may have to take that back. First, there are numerous reasons in regards to aesthetics that I find these films almost unbearable. Secondly, the films end up being so wound up in their own characters' inner workings, that every element surrounding them is non-existent in representation to the film. Both these films play so much as personal stories, not for the audience but more for Swanberg and the crew surrounding them, that can't but come off as self-indulgent. But as someone who has a bit of a soft spot for pretension and as of the relatively same age as the filmmakers, I can see in moments of what mumblecore can accomplish.

Hannah Takes the Stairs simply isn't that good. Shot on DV, which I absolutely hate, the film has no aesthetic sense. Swanberg's style has been focused much on his complete lack of style, as the camera jolts and wanders with no real focus other to be a fly on the wall. The problem for me is that it comes off as so completely amateurish but also with idea that the film is intentionally trying to be that way. I'll take a hermetically closed-off stylist like Wes Anderson or Kubrick to this any day of the week. The story isn't much better, as it focuses on Hannah (Greta Gerwig) and he mutters and stammers her way through a love triangles with two of her co-workers, played by Andrew Bujalski and Kent Osborne. Hannah is so wrapped up in Hannah that what she does at work, or what her relationship is with Matt or Paul, that it manages to offer no insight into her while allowing her to babble about anything is fairly amazing. Couple that with the lack of a visual eye and you get a meandering, banal film.

Nights and Weekends is a little more tolerable because Swanberg has found at least a little cinematic style here. The DV looks a little better and the inclusion of shadows and light make it more striking when the moments arises, the last scene of the film coming to mind. Focusing on the long distance relationship of James (Swanberg) and Mattie (Gerwig) as they try to make it work, drift apart and come together one last time, Nights and Weekends suffers from many of the same problems as the film above. The characters are so wrapped up in their own neurotic dialogue that we get no picture of anything deeper in their personalities. On one level, it can be considered extremely pretentious but there's something in me that finds it appealing in theory. It's just that the execution never lives up to how I picture it to be. There's something about Nights and Weekends that I find more appealing than Hannah, mostly because it's focus is on one relationship. And when Swanberg and Gerwig get some ideas right, like the awkward sexuality of James and Mattie's relationship, I think mumblecore might have something important to say...if it could get it's head out its ass for a full ninety minutes.

No comments: