Happenstance is a very real thing in writer/director Stephen Basilone’s debut film, Long Weekend, and it impacts not only his pair of hopelessly-in-love characters, but this critic who stumbled upon this movie at just the right time. This is not the light, airy rom-com that I was expecting to be reviewing. I mean, it is that, but there’s so much more to this whimsical, good-natured film about lovers who meet when they need one another most. Like time travel. Sci-fi elements emerge when least expected and fuse with familiar rom-com tropes to make a fresh, spirited pick-me-up that will take a lot of people by surprise.
Long Weekend is one of those movies that centers on a struggling writer with heartbreak infecting his soul. Right from the beginning, we think we know where this is going. Bart (Finn Wittrock) is just a year removed from the death of his mother, compounded by the sudden breakup from his girlfriend that has forced him to move out of the apartment they shared together. That’s probably not such a bad thing. Moving into the garage of his married friends Doug (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Rachel (Casey Wilson) provides more than just a place to rest his head, but the potential for emotional recovery.
Repeated calls, mostly ignored, by family tell us that Bart has some physical or mental ailment he doesn’t want to deal with. Instead, he spends his time drinking, hanging out and, this being L.A., he can always find a showing of Peter Sellers’ Being There at a local theater. It’s while taking in the comedy classic that he encounters Vienna (Zoë Chao), a beautiful, enigmatic newbie to the city who is so lonely she immediately asks him to join her at the nearest watering hole.
The “Is this really happening?” idea gets floated, and it’s a feeling that Long Weekend sort of luxuriates in. Vienna is almost too good to be real. She’s funny, outgoing, and affectionate, but what’s her deal? Why’s she carrying around a wad of cash? How is it she’s never held a sparkler in her life? Why is she staying at a really nondescript hotel? And who in this age doesn’t carry a cell phone? That first day together is magical. She lifts his spirits in the way Peter Sellers movies used to but no longer can. He introduces her to aspects of life that seem fairly common, but which she is unaware. She’s hiding a secret, but being in love tends to make those things come out more easily. Vienna says she’s a time traveler from the future, there for a purpose that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The questions surrounding Vienna are ones that Basilone knows we in the audience are asking. Is she really from the far-flung future? Has someone lost their grip on reality, either him or her? Or is Vienna some figment of Bart’s imagination, his idea of the perfect woman? This Ruby Sparks scenario is what Basilone leaves us to ponder the longest, but he also has his characters recognize what’s happening, too. Vienna and Bart briefly argue about the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl trope, but Basilone has no intention of deconstructing it. Instead, he chooses to run with it in order to set in our minds certain expectations for the direction of the story, expectations he then proceeds to upend pleasantly.
The mysterious truth surrounding Vienna wouldn’t matter if we didn’t care about them as a romantic pair, however. In this, Wittrock and Chao have incredible chemistry that endears us to the odd nature of their relationship. We’re invested in their conversations, his desperate attempts to learn more about her, and her attempts to shield him from what she knows. While their sexual encounters play out a bit repetitively, they feel like two people falling in love despite knowing something, whether it’s mental instability or calls to return to the future, will get between them.
I’ll be honest, Wittrock isn’t an actor I’ve thought much about he’s impressed me so little. He certainly has the square-jawed look of a star but has rarely been emotive enough compared to his co-stars, but here he connects surprisingly well in capturing Bart’s insecurity, which leads to his willingness to embrace Vienna and all of her quirks. Chao is an actress I’ve grown accustomed to as a snarky friend, and have never seen her so lively and charming.
Long Weekend easily could’ve been a disaster. Romance films about people who fall in love with time travelers are more plentiful than one might think. I like to believe that what attracts us to them is the notion that we must learn to live in the moment and accept love wherever we can find it for however long we can hold on to it. Long Weekend isn’t breaking new ground or anything like that, but its earnest commitment to this mindful notion, coupled with Wittrock and Chao’s performances, will linger for more than just a weekend.
Long Weekend opens in theaters on March 12th.